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VTT limits its application to decommission research reactor – Fuel returned to the US

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment
Publication date 10.2.2021 9.00
Press release
FiR 1 research reactor building in Otaniemi

On 10 February 2021, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) submitted a letter to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment limiting its application of 2017 to decommission the FiR 1 research reactor in Otaniemi. The limitation concerns the return of the reactor’s spent fuel to the United States according to a programme agreed by Finland and the US in the 1960s.

“I am pleased that the fuel partly used in the Otaniemi reactor can be utilised in the same type of research reactor in the US. The correspondence and negotiations held in autumn 2020 will ensure the safe use and care of the fuel in future,” said Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä.

VTT is responsible for the decommissioning and dismantling of the Otaniemi research reactor. This is the first dismantling project undertaken in Finland, and any lessons learned from it can be applied to similar projects and application procedures in future. 

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment will submit VTT’s application to the Government for consideration in spring 2021. After the Government has granted authorisation, VTT can proceed with the dismantling of the reactor structures in Espoo’s Otaniemi campus area. VTT has already concluded an agreement under which Fortum Power and Heat Oy will manage the dismantling waste at its power plant in Loviisa.

Fuel transferred to US Geological Survey

The Finnish Government acquired a research reactor from the United States for research and education purposes in 1960. Since 1962, it has been used for education, research, isotope production and other service provision. It was also used for radiation therapy in 1999–2012. VTT shut down the reactor permanently in 2015. Since then, VTT has prepared the decommissioning and dismantling of the reactor and arranged for a safe storage and final disposal of the fuel and waste generated in the dismantling. 

VTT’s first option has been to return the fuel to the United States. The return of the fuel has been prepared for years in accordance with a US Department of Energy programme. On 30 November 2020, VTT concluded an agreement with the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the spent fuel was sent to the USGS in December 2020. The USGS received the fuel in January and is responsible for its management until it is transferred to the US Department of Energy for final disposal. 

The USGS is located in Denver and has a similar TRIGA research reactor as the Otaniemi FiR 1 reactor. The transport of fuel was supervised by Radiation Safety Agency (STUK), and in the US, by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the US Department of Transport (DOT). 

For more than 30 years, the USGS has carried out research aimed at the final disposal of radioactive waste and its long-term safety. This geological and hydrological research aims to ensure that the radioactive isotopes in the waste do not leak from the final repository to the biosphere and the human habitat. 

Liisa Heikinheimo, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, tel. +358 29 504 7035
Linda Kumpula, Senior Specialist, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, tel. +358 29 506 0125

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