Finland’s brilliant plan for dealing with nuclear waste: pulling a Keyser SözeS

After decades of planning and $12 billions of investment, the United States grand plan to dispose of the nation's nuclear waste in Nevada's remote Yucca Mountain melted down in political rancor like... well, kind of like a nuclear plant melting down. The Obama Administration pulled the plug on funding the project without specifying any technical problems, leaving the Government Accountability Office to conclude it was done for purely political reasons.

A great article in Popular Mechanics suggests that our problems with nuclear waste aren't just political but philosophical. Where the American plan is grandiose, overblown, and overbuilt, the Finnish one—the Onkalo facility currently being built on Olkiluoto Island—is clever, simple, and realistic.

To keep away future humans who may or may not speak English, the plan [for a US disposal site] calls for a 2-mile-long berm, 98 feet wide and 33 feet tall, ringing the facility. Huge magnets and radar deflectors would be buried in the berm, intended to make its man-made nature and seriousness of purpose obvious to any future investigator. Forty-eight stone pillars, carved with warnings in seven languages, would be erected Stonehenge-style around the site...The plan, of course, assumes that humanity's capacity for logic and instinct for self-preservation outweigh its natural curiosity-on evidence, a dubious assumption. Seriously, who wouldn't want to dig in a place so baroquely decorated, deathly warnings be damned?

Meanwhile, the Finnish disposal site (again, actually being constructed) is the exact opposite:

Olkiluoto is at best unremarkable, and at worst unpleasant. And that's why Finland thinks it's the perfect place to store nuclear waste. There may be no need to create elaborate ways to prevent unsuspecting people of the future from breaking into the waste repository, because nobody would ever want to visit this island in the first place.

In 2120 or so, Onkalo will be sealed, and if some engineers have their way, that will be it. No signs saying keep out, no skull-and-crossbones icons, no locks on the door. No door at all. Why draw unnecessary attention?

The Pop Mech article has lots of good details on the clever design of the Onkalo facility; check it out.

Image of Onkalo storage facility: Posiva