Mika Pohjonen Interviewed by kernenergie.de on the Finnish Site Selection for High Active Waste Disposal

November 2016

Mika Pohjonen
Mika Pohjonen

Mika Pohjonen is Managing Director of Posiva Solutions Oy, an engineering service provider for spent fuel management and disposal founded in June 2016 as daughter of Posiva. Mr. Pohjonen has over 25 years of international experience in the energy sector and has held various positions in the engineering and management consulting business, e.g. at Fortum Oyj and Pöyry. Mr. Pohjonen has broad expertise in the nuclear energy business acquired in Finland and many other European countries that utilize nuclear energy, as well as in the Middle East. He has worked as an invited expert for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on several occasions.

Finland and of course POSIVA were very successful in the process of site selection for a HAW-repository and you have obtained the construction licence for such a repository in November 2015, the first in the world. Can you shortly describe the process and point to the main reasons for success in your opinion?

Preparations for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel in Finland began at the same time as the commissioning of the first nuclear power plants in the late 1970s. The schedule for the final disposal was set in 1983, when the Government decided on the objectives and programme for nuclear waste management.

1978Geological screening for final disposal starts
1983Government decision on overall schedule
1984 - 1999Site characterization and selection process
2001Decision in principle by the Government and the Parliament: Olkiluoto selected and approved as the final disposal site
2004Construction of ONKALO research tunnel and site confirmation studies starts in Olkiluoto
2012Construction license application
2015Construction license granted
by 2025operation license expected to be granted and start of industrial final disposal

The success of implementation was based on some key factors. Very important was transparency and comprehensive interaction with stakeholders with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a structure and guide for public involvement and participation since 1994; however, the interaction was not limited to the EIA process, but has continued actively on different levels, for different stakeholder needs until today and is continuing. Another major point is stakeholders' trust in STUK as a regulatory body and STUK's strong independent approach. Noticing that Posiva openly respects and obeys STUKs guidance has also promoted trust in Posiva. Nuclear facilities on the same site have served well, being top units in the world and creating trust in the region. People have become accustomed to nuclear facilities and benefited from them. Also final disposal offers long term employment opportunities. The employees of the power plants have acted as advocates for nuclear, being committed to the industry and trusting it. To read more about Posiva you can visit www.posiva.fi/en.

One striking difference between Germany and Finland when looking at the respective history of repository site selection is the lack of trust of parts of the German public in the operator and regulator as well as in science. What would be your advice on confidence building for the operator and the regulator of the site selection process, but also with regard to the scientific community dealing with the topic?

In my opinion, unfortunately there is no shortcut. The issue is complicated not only from social, technical, environmental and communicational points of view, but also ethically. Interaction with stakeholders has to be implemented differently for each stakeholder, it has to evolve over time and it has to be continuous, not related to confined processes like EIA etc. The scientific community specifically, but regulator and operator as well face the big challenge of communicating understandably. They need to take into account that stakeholders have the right to communicate and discuss the issue in a meaningful way from their own starting point and on their own level, not on a level chosen by nuclear professionals. One cannot expect them to educate themselves into experts, either.

Local acceptance plays a key role when selecting the site for spent fuel disposal. A long time is needed for acceptance and it is helpful if the municipality in question has already nuclear facilities. Locally in nuclear municipalities people are much better informed about nuclear issues than at national level – communication has been ongoing since the power plants were commissioned.

In Germany there are three different types of potential host rock for a HAW-repository available. In your opinion, is this an asset for the site selection process that will make it easier to be successful or might this feed controversy in the process and between possibly suitable regions?

Globally, solutions for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel are developed in different geologies. Assuming these solutions are proven to be safe, why not to include different geologies - and methodologies - to find the most suitable solution for Germany. Posiva can of course offer its expertise to be used in this process, if needed.