Ilkka Poikolainen: Posiva plays a key role in the life cycle of nuclear power


Sustainability is an excellent description of Posiva's role in the nuclear life cycle. Nowhere else in the world is the start of the disposal of spent nuclear fuel as far advanced as in Finland. On the day when Posiva begins the production phase of disposal in the mid-2020s, we will be living through a historic moment at Posiva, in Finland and globally – a moment when the missing piece of the nuclear life cycle will have been finally sealed.

Our fundamental mission at Posiva is to dispose of the spent nuclear fuel of our owners TVO and Fortum safely and cost-effectively deep in the bedrock. We have a solution that will make nuclear power an even more sustainable form of production.

Posiva started as a research organisation. After that, a large project called EKA was launched, aiming at the actual final disposal activity. Posiva's strongest brand is ONKALO®, which is widely known in nuclear circles around the world. When talking about ONKALO, it could be used to describe our entire final disposal system, although it is often associated with underground operations. In the EKA project, we are building both the above-ground encapsulation plant and the underground facilities and operations, including the production equipment that will be installed there.

Internationally, the project is a model for the whole world. The EKA project has been a great achievement for the Posiva organisation. The number of pages in the application for an operating licence submitted in 2021 is around 17,000. The application summarises decades of work. It is hard to imagine a much more challenging project than defining and building a disposal system.

The first step has been to study what the disposal system should be like, taking into account factors such as potential earthquakes and ice ages. Then a safe disposal system is defined, using fully customised production equipment that is not available on the stock list of any contract manufacturer.

The approaching end of the EKA project means that we have started to prepare for the actual final disposal operation. That is why Posiva was established. It is our fundamental mission. We are on the verge of something new, but not unprepared. During the testing and commissioning phase of the equipment, our organisation has been very actively involved in learning how to use it, both for production and maintenance.

Our next step is to change our organisational structure to deliver results in the production phase. The safety assessment of the application for our operating licence will also be processed in several stages (Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, Advisory Committee on Nuclear Safety, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, and the Government) before the final operating licence is issued and the production starts.

A very important step before the start of disposal activities is the testing of the whole system. This so-called integrated trial run tests the seamless operation of the equipment and the readiness of the organisation for the production phase, taking into account the different aspects of safety.

Posiva's strategy has the vision to be a “world leader in final disposal”. Not only will we be the first in the world to start disposing of spent nuclear fuel, but the quality of our operations must be world class. We have identified the activities that need the most improvement and have started to drive the development forward. Thanks to our staff, we have received excellent ideas for improving our operations.

Despite its important role in the life cycle of nuclear power, Posiva has also had a major socio-economic impact in the 2000s, both in Satakunta region and throughout Finland. According to studies, we indirectly employed about 16,000 person-years between years 2001 and 2024. The EKA project also coincides with this period. During the production phase, Posiva employs in Finland, in addition to its own staff, about 500-550 person-years annually. The production phase will last for the next 100 years.

Globally, the need for the disposal industry will inevitably grow. Nuclear power has been in use for a long time and new plants are being built. This is where Posiva can help the global nuclear industry through the expertise sold by its wholly owned subsidiary Posiva Solutions. It is also an excellent place for our staff to develop and maintain their skills, as the experience gained over 40 years can be harnessed to drive forward responsible disposal of spent nuclear fuel worldwide. We have a wealth of rock-solid competence that we can be proud of on a global scale.


Ilkka Poikolainen
Posiva Oy

The editorial has been published in ATS Ydintekniikka Magazine 2/2024.