Ignace, Ont. — A kilometre and a half below the surface of Olkiluoto Island in Eurajoki, on the west coast of Finland, the new elevator doors opened after a gentle 70-second plunge to a clean, bright white, high-ceiling room.
This was the first area of the Onkalo nuclear waste disposal facility (Posiva encapsulation plant) for spent nuclear fuel, that a delegation from Ignace, Ont., saw as they stepped off the elevator. The sight erased any vision of dimly lit caves and tunnels as they entered the world’s first permanent geological repository, which is being constructed adjacent to the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant (NPP).
Aimed at opening in 2024, the encapsulation plant is still undergoing testing and mock trials with no nuclear waste on-site as of yet.
Posiva is an expert organization in environmental technology tasked with handling the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel.
Cindy Stark, who was part of the Ignace delegation that travelled to Helsinki, Rauna and Eurajoki, in Finland, on a fact-finding mission about nuclear waste storage, called it an “engineering marvel.”
“It was something that you would see in a sci-fi movie,” she said. “From the robotics that are involved to the giant forklift, it’s not like anything we’ve ever seen. They need to move the used-fuel containers through the encapsulation plant and they didn’t go to the store and buy one. They invented it and they made it huge.”
Stark described the facility as daunting and said it takes 20 minutes to descend to the bottom by vehicle.
“It’s just jaw-dropping. It was like something out of a (Marvel) movie. I was just in awe of that whole plant where everything was a giant size with robotic automation.”
She described walking along the bright hallways built with four-inch walls made from cement and painted white.
“Around the corner, there is the cafeteria-style restaurant,” she said.  “It was crazy. We went down a set of stairs where (actual) cars and vans picked us up.”
She described the tunnel ceilings, which are more than 30 feet high.
“It’s big. It’s open,” she said, adding that now they were in the natural rock.
“Once you get into the tunnels where they’re actually going to put the cylinders of spent nuclear fuel, when you put your hand on the rock, it feels a little damp from the condensation. It was just mind-boggling.”
Above ground, the state-of-the-art visitors centre acts as a teaching, learning and gathering space with the nuclear power plant about a kilometre away on the island.
Stark said “the draw for employment of the (Ignace-proposed) project will go from Quebec to Manitoba and the impact of our local area including Thunder Bay, will be incredible. People need to look at the scope of this project and that this is the tip of the iceberg for Northern Ontario.”
Delegation member, Ignace Coun. Jodi Defeo, described how the Finnish people took pride in the project having come this far in the process and being able to share that knowledge and experience with other members of the global community.
“The extent of the safety that they practiced was absolutely amazing,” Defeo said. “Their safety precautions, the level of ingenuity and being the first of this project, developing machinery and the mechanics and the rooms — it was efficient, very safe, very clean, and a sight to behold.”
Defeo said she facilitated time to randomly speak to members of the community to make sure there wasn’t a hidden agenda.
“They were only showing us the shiny gems,” she said. “I didn’t uncover anything and I felt they were being very, very truthful in the delivery of information.”
Defeo said there was good communication between the Posiva organization and members of their community and their broader community. They practice safety and bring that information back to share with the people. She pointed out the two companies have helped to stabilize the economy in the host communities with enhanced services such as sustainable education and health care.
“I am doing due diligence and everything I can to learn as much information as I can,” she said. “We have engaged a third party company to talk with the community which is going to have qualitative and quantitative input for council to make that decision. It’s really the Ignace community that’s making the decision and council endorsing their wishes.”

By Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 28, 2023 at 10:35

This item reprinted with permission from   The Chronicle-Journal   Thunder Bay, Ontario
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