Advancing geological repositories from concept to operation

ICGR-6 DG Magwood speech

The opening session of the ICGR-6. Photo: Krystal Kenney

The NEA hosted the Sixth International Conference on Geological Repositories (ICGR-6) on 4-8 April 2022 in Helsinki, Finland. Originally scheduled to take place in 2020, then rescheduled for 2021, ICGR-6 was an important milestone for the Agency as the first major conference held face-to-face since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“The disposal of spent fuel is not an unsolvable conundrum…the nuclear sector has not created a mess that it doesn’t know how to address. The success of the Finnish programme shows the world that nuclear waste is not a reason to declare nuclear energy to be unsustainable. It declares that DGRs will work and there is a very broad scientific consensus around supporting this waste management strategy,” said NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV, in opening the conference.

ICGR-6 DG Magwood opening speech NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV, delivers opening remarks. Photo: Krystal Kenney

Addressing conference delegates, DG Magwood added “The work that you are doing isn’t just about cleaning up the legacies of the past, it’s paving the way for the future and at least enabling the possibility that the world can rely on nuclear energy to resolve the issue of climate change. It’s something we at the NEA are very focused on.”

ICGR-6 Liisa Heikinheimo

Liisa Heikinheimo, Deputy Director General at the Energy Department, Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. 
Photo: Krystal Kenney

Liisa Heikinheimo, Deputy Director General at the Energy Department, Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, outlined the Finnish solution for managing nuclear waste, welcomed recent Swedish progress and discussed the possible impact of small modular reactors (SMRs) on the sector - both for electricity production and district heating. Ms Heikinheimo said that “…although small units, SMRs produce waste and repositories and waste management is needed for these technologies as well.”

One of the key policy lessons to emerge from the conference was that involving the younger generation is crucial for the sustainable development of geological disposals. Accordingly, many young professionals and graduate students took part throughout the conference and contributed actively to all sessions.

ICGR-6 Younger Generation Session

Participants in the Younger Generation Session were mainly university students (for the most part from technical and engineering institutions) and young professionals, drawn from 12 countries. Photo: Krystal Kenney

Separate exchange and networking sessions for these delegates were convened to discuss subjects as diverse as: defining innovation and making it a reality; overcoming obstacles in the nuclear field; addressing intergenerational issues; and identifying what type of practical knowledge or techniques those that come after them should obtain before entering the nuclear energy field.

Despite the existing consensus within the international community that geological repositories provide the necessary long-term safety and security for long-lived waste, conference goers agreed that challenges related to safety of repositories, public trust, availability of skilled staff and knowledge transfer remain in many countries. That meant that, beyond sharing technical expertise, many of the sessions were explicitly focused on sharing experiences of stakeholder involvement, building and maintaining trust, and bridging the gap between society and science. There was widespread recognition that enhancing confidence beyond the technical community is an area that waste management organisations need to work on.

ICGR-6 Session speakers

“Building and maintaining trust” session speakers. Photo: Krystal Kenney

The conference also featured exhibition booths showcasing advancements in technologies and geological repository development, as well as a heavily subscribed site visit to the low- and intermediate-level waste repository facility (ONKALO) in Olkiluoto.

The conference was co-organised by the NEA and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland in co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), European Commission and International Association for Environmentally Safe Disposal of Radioactive Materials.

See also