Fortum calls for prompt decision on Swedish repository

18 August 2021

A government decision on Sweden's final waste repository will be delayed by the launch of a public consultation on whether the application for the repository should be considered separately from that for an expansion of the existing Clab interim repository for used fuel, Finnish nuclear operator Fortum has said. A government decision, it warned, is needed before the end of this month in order to avoid future disruptions to electricity supply due to a lack of interim used fuel storage capacity.

A rendering of how the underground repository could appear (Image: SKB)

Announcing its financial results for the first half of 2021 yesterday, Fortum - which is co-owner of the Oskarshamn and Forsmark nuclear power plants in Sweden - said the Swedish government had launched the consultation in June "in order to further postpone a decision on the final waste repository".

Radioactive waste management company Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB (SKB) submitted applications to build Sweden's first nuclear fuel repository and an encapsulation plant to the Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) in March 2011. The integrated facility - the encapsulation plant and the Clab interim storage facility at Oskarshamn - is referred to in SKB's application as Clink. The application concerns the disposal of 6000 capsules with a total of 12,000 tonnes of radioactive waste at a depth of about 500 metres. SKB also applied to extend the storage capacity of the Clab facility from the current 8000 tonnes of fuel to 11,000 tonnes.

The applications have been reviewed by the SSM and the Land and Environment Court. The SSM has 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 Environment Code. Both SSM and the Land and Environment Court submitted their respective positive opinions to the government on SKB's applications in January 2018.

Under the Swedish Environmental Code, before the government makes a final decision, it must consult with the municipalities of Oskarshamn and Östhammar, which have the power to veto the application. In June 2018, the municipal council in Oskarshamn voted in favour of SKB's plan to build the fuel encapsulation plant in the municipality. The municipal council of Östhammar in October 2020 approved the planned repository at Forsmark.

Consultation launched

However, on 20 June the Ministry of the Environment launched a consultation on making separate considerations on the applications for the repository and for the expansion of Clab.

"Because the licensing process of the final repository has been delayed, the intermediate storage in Oskarshamn is becoming full," Fortum said. "The nuclear power operators have therefore already warned about the risks of major disruptions in the electricity supply from spring 2024.

"When the intermediate storage becomes full, nuclear plants will no longer be able to get rid of their spent nuclear fuel and thus run the risk of not being able to further run the reactors. In order to avoid this situation, a government decision is needed before 31 August 2021, as the continued permission processes are estimated to take about two years."

Fortum said the intermediate storage and the final repository "are connected in a coherent final repository system". It noted the additional costs of the delayed decision for the nuclear power plant owners are an estimated EUR80 million (USD94 million) per year.

SKB said yesterday that more than 20 consultation responses have so far been received and a clear majority opposes a division of the applications. "They advocate a coherent application and that the government should make a hasty decision on this," it said. The company noted only four consultative bodies expressed support for the applications to be considered separately.

"SKB's view that the government should promptly decide on the admissibility of the entire final repository application is shared by a number of important consultation bodies," it said. "In addition to SKB's owners Vattenfall, Uniper, Fortum and others, the Swedish Energy Agency, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, Sweden's municipalities and regions, the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, the energy Companies and others also reject a division of the application and advocate an urgent government decision on the whole. Many of the consultative bodies also see great risks in dividing up the application."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News