Could nuclear waste be buried near you?

ITV News Health and Science Correspondent Martin Stew heads to Finland to find out how the country stores nuclear waste

Britain has a mounting problem with nuclear waste. There are 80,000 containers of radioactive material stored above ground in the UK.

In current storage they are susceptible to natural and human disasters. They need to find a permanent home, but where?

International consensus is that burying nuclear waste deep into the rock is the safest option.

Three of the options currently on the table include Cumbria and Lincolnshire.

I travelled to the Island of Olkiluoto in south west Finland to see how it could be done.

They have been planning, developing and digging for more than 50 years.

This autumn they’ll carry out the world’s first test of burying spent radioactive fuel into the bedrock.

Martin Stew looks at the giant copper clad capsules which containing the waste. Credit: ITV News

We took a lift 450 metres underground - as deep as The Empire State Building is tall.

It’s there, in a 50km long labyrinth of tunnels, that giant copper clad capsules containing the waste will be buried then covered in clay and concrete.

Engineers say it will protect the waste for 100,000 years - longer than humans have lived in Europe.

Geologists chose rock which is 1.9 billion years old to avoid the risk of flooding or earthquakes. Even so, I was interested in what happens if something does go wrong.

“The regulator has counted the scenario that everything goes wrong, that the canisters breakdown, there will be a flood inside of it, the rock will break” said Pasi Tuohimaa who works for Posiva Solutions.

Pasi Tuohimaa who works for Posiva Solutions. Credit: ITV News

“Still what will happen to the farmer living above, even if he drinks the water and eats the food he grows, is no worse in terms of radiation in his lifetime than what an x-ray nurse gets in one year.”

The UK is at a much earlier stage of planning. Any site in our country would be unlikely to be complete until the second half of this century and could be 18 times bigger.

“It’s fair to say we have a more complex inventory but the basic concept of isolating and containing the waste remains the same,” said Dr Amy Shelton from Nuclear Waste Services.

South Copeland, Mid Copeland and Theddlethorpe are being considered as sites in the UK.

The Mayor of Eurajoki, which neighbours Olkiluoto, told me getting local buy in is key.

He said: “Of course there are people here who are against nuclear issues but it has been the same situation for four decades.

"First scientists and engineers find out what is safest way to do final disposal and after that comes political decision making. That’s how it goes in Finland.”

There’s at least a decade of planning ahead in the UK. The final bill for a similar project in our country could cost up to £50bn.

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