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Intrinsic significance of specialist skills, safety and quality

Sito is strongly involved in Posiva’s research and development projects at Olkiluoto. At any one time, up to ten Sito employees will be contributing to the safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

The disposal repository in Olkiluoto’s bedrock, to be used for storing spent nuclear fuel from Teollisuuden Voima and Fortum nuclear power stations, will be completed by 2023. Previous experience of storage building does not exist in Finland, and this is the first project carried out here. Spent nuclear fuel cannot be allowed to pose a slightest risk, whatever the conditions. Plant safety must therefore be guaranteed before the completion of the project. Nothing can be left to chance, and every detail must be investigated and clarified.

In a project that lasts this long, the partners need perseverance. Project director Erkki Palonen thinks his current assignment at Posiva will continue until 2023, when disposal of spent nuclear fuel is to begin. “But I don’t know yet what happens after that,” he says.

20.3.2014 Erkki Palonen

Founded in 1995, Posiva Ltd is an expert organization responsible for disposal of spent nuclear fuel owned by its parent companies, the related research, and other specialist services in the field. Not only designing and building the disposal plant, Posiva will also be charged with operating it.

Disposal of spent nuclear fuel, packed in copper canisters and embedded in Olkiluoto bedrock at a depth of approximately 450 meters, will continue for nearly a hundred years after the completion of the building project. After that, it will be Posiva’s responsibility to decommission the plant.

As the project director, Erkki Palonen’s job is to coordinate the implementation of the plant complex, and to ensure that necessary resources are in place throughout the project stages. Such resources could mean electricity and water but also human resources, which are in particular demand during this preparatory stage.

Finding the best talent

Erkki Palonen thinks Posiva could be described as a management company. “We employ less than a hundred people but our output comes to at least three hundred person years. As we work across a broad range of extremely specialist fields, it is not feasible to employ all top talent at Posiva for the short time their contribution is needed,” says Palonen.

That’s why Posiva collaborates with several Finnish and overseas specialist organizations. For example, the company commissions nuclear waste management studies from research institutes, consultant companies and universities.

In Finland, nuclear waste disposal was first studied at the end of the 1970s. Initial investigations into the location of a spent nuclear fuel repository were carried out in Olkiluoto in the 1980s. Sito’s employees joined the project more than ten years ago, contributing to research reports, studies and projects. “I think it’s already been 13 years since I first worked for Posiva,” says Tapani Lyytinen, a Sito project director for underground spaces, while Jannis Mikkola, Director, Municipalities, was involved in drawing Olkiluoto’s area plan for more than ten years ago.

Over the years, Sito has participated in research and development projects and in a range of projects preparing, and planning for, the implementation. Currently Sito is engaged in several specialist assignments related to rock construction, project management and independent quality assurance for final disposal. Posiva’s projects have usually involved 5-10 Sito’s employees.

Erkki Palonen concludes: “Many projects have been completed, many are still underway, and I’m certain there will be new jobs to take on, even before the actual building work is begun.

These long projects also have the benefit of providing Finnish professionals, research institutes, universities and businesses with a wealth of knowledge and top-level expertise, which can definitely be applied globally.”

Text: Dakota Lavento.
Photography: Posiva