The Secret Half-Life of Us!

                                                                                       The secret half-life of us!

Tell us some highlights of your European holiday Jill.”

Oh well Geoff, one of the highlights for me was the visit to that power station and nuclear fuel dump in Finland.”

Yes, that is what we have just done everyone, taken a chance to see the fruits of our mining boom in action, because this place runs largely on Australian uranium.

For me I shall never forget standing in the nuclear unholiest of unholies, the reactor tower of Olkiluoto 1 power station and looking down into the blue glow that radiated (oops, sorry wrong word) – emanated from the water below covering the reactor core, the lid of which shows as a pale disc beneath.

Sorry, I was not allowed to take pictures inside.

It was a curious experience going there, a cross between the procedure to enter a hospital operating theatre, a high level military installation and a touch of airline terminal. We had to don special footwear at a very strict demarcation point. Our bags were x-rayed and we were accompanied not only by our guide, an engineer and recent new mother with a passion for ballroom dancing, but also a very butch looking female security guard.

There was however one breach of security, caused by your correspondent, who in removing his overshoes, accidentally put his right foot where his left should be, causing a slight fuss and having to walk corridors in his socks until new decontaminated shoes arrived.

The plant we visited was the oldest of the reactors, up and running since the late 1970s. The two originals have a combined power output of 1760 megawatts, more than our beloved Hazelwood, and have been online between 92 and 96 percent of the time, for more than 30 years.

After this tour, we visited the construction site of Olkiluoto 3, the world’s most advanced station to date, scheduled for completion in 2015, a single reactor with the same output as Hazelwood- 1600 mw.

With its round dome and single ventilator shaft, it looks strangely like the grand mosque in Istanbul with three of its minarets missing. With September 11 in mind they had to upgrade the specifications for the reactor and consequently the cost, to withstand the impact of a wayward airliner.

Much of the construction work has already been done, but its opening has been delayed by a problem in getting the plant’s automated systems sorted, something that is being done in France and Germany whose companies are building it.

Our tour ended where the contaminated by-products end up, at the nuclear waste dump for low and medium level material. The high level waste such as spent fuel rods are at a different place.

The Finns have a policy of burying all their waste in their own country, not exporting the problem to somewhere else. When it was announced they wanted somewhere for a new high level dump, municipalities all over the country volunteered.

It was awarded to Olkiluolto because that is the biggest nuclear plant. It seems the more experience people have with this power source, the less they fear it.

During the tour, I was given a radiation dosage monitor to wear and after several hours, including time in the reactor building and the dump, do you know how much radiation I received? None. It didn’t register a single microsievert.

I could have at least had one.

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