Environmental court approves Swedish repository expansion

14 November 2019

The expansion of Sweden's existing SFR repository for low and intermediate-level waste at Forsmark has been approved by the Land and Environment Court in Stockholm. With approval already granted by the nuclear regulator, the government will now make a final decision on the application.

How the expanded SFR would appear (Image: SKB / LAJ Illustration)

The SFR repository, in the municipality of Östhammar, is situated 60 metres below the bottom of the Baltic Sea. It comprises four 160-metre-long rock vaults and a chamber in the bedrock, with a 50-metre-high concrete silo for the most radioactive waste. Two parallel one-kilometre-long access tunnels link the facility to the surface. Most of the short-lived waste deposited in the SFR - which began operations in 1988 - comes from Swedish nuclear power plants, but radioactive waste from hospitals, veterinary medicine, research and industry is also deposited within it. The facility currently houses about 63,000 cubic metres of waste and is 60% full.

Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB (SKB), the company responsible for storing Sweden's nuclear waste, applied in December 2014 to triple the size of the SFR facility, adding a further 170,000 cubic metres of capacity. The extended part of the repository will consist of six new rock chambers, each 240-275 metres in length.

The application has been reviewed by both SSM and the Land and Environment Court. The Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) considered issues of nuclear safety and radiation at the facilities as laid down in the country's Nuclear Activities Act. The review undertaken by the Land and Environment Court was based on the Environmental Code. When applications under the Environmental Code include issues on radiation safety, the SMM is the referral body for the court.

In January, SSM recommended to the Land and Environment Court that a permit for the expansion of SFR should be granted under the Sweden's Environmental Code. SSM's review found that SKB's construction and operation of the extension to the repository at Forsmark can be carried out in a way that is radiologically safe, and that the method of final disposal chosen by SKB is appropriate for achieving post-closure radiation safety. During the court's main hearing of SKB's application - which took place between 23 September and 3 October - SMM recommended the government approves the application.

The Land and Environment Court yesterday gave its approval of SKB's application to expand SFR.

"The court's message today shows that our final repository concept is able to live up to the environmental court's very high demands on both long-term safety and consideration of high natural values in the environment," said SKB CEO Eva Halldén.

"We have now passed two very important milestones on the road to being able to expand SFR," she added. "Our hope is that two such clear statements also facilitate the continued process for a final permit. An expanded SFR is an important part of our mission to handle and dispose of all Swedish nuclear waste in a way that is safe for people and the environment, both now and in the future."

SKB noted that the next step in the permitting process is for the government to "take a position on the issue" based on the opinions submitted by both the court and SSM.

"As soon as permits have been granted, construction work - which is estimated to take six years - can start," SKB said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News