IAEA commends Sweden's management of radioactive waste

09 May 2023

Sweden demonstrates a solid commitment to ensuring the safe implementation of nuclear radioactive waste and used fuel management activities, including its efforts towards establishing a deep geological facility, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts has concluded.

The IAEA's expert team on a study visit to SKB's Clab intermediate storage (Image: SKB)

The IAEA sent an Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (Artemis) mission to Sweden at the request of the country's government to support it in meeting European Union obligations under the Council Directive on radioactive waste and used fuel management.

Artemis missions provide independent expert opinion and advice, drawn from an international team of specialists convened by the IAEA. Reviews are based on IAEA safety standards and technical guidance, as well as international good practices.

A team - comprising eight experts from Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the USA, as well as three IAEA staff members - completed an eleven-day mission to Sweden on 27 April. An observer from the European Commission also attended the mission. The mission was hosted by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM).

The team recognised the way in which Sweden has developed and implemented the KBS-3 concept for used fuel disposal as a good practice. The KBS‑3 system consists of a central facility for interim storage and encapsulation of used nuclear fuel, a transport system for the transportation of canisters with encapsulated used nuclear fuel and a final repository facility.

The review team leader, François Besnus, Director of Radioactive Waste Safety Division of the French Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety, said "the government has established conditions for the KBS-3 technique to be developed into a mature concept, earning widespread support among stakeholders".

The team also identified recommendations and suggestions to maintain and further improve the safe and responsible management of radioactive waste in Sweden, including: ensuring that safe management routes are made available for all types of radioactive waste and that sufficient resources are appropriately allocated for this purpose; using the national plan as a strategic planning component to monitor the implementation of the national policies; and establishing a stakeholder forum to coordinate preparations for the future disposal facility for long-lived radioactive waste.

"Sweden is an example for all IAEA Member States of the safe management of spent fuel," said Hildegarde Vandenhove, Director of the IAEA Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety. "I am confident that the recommended improvements related to the safe management of non-nuclear radioactive waste will be considered and implemented."

The final mission report will be provided to the Swedish government in two months.

"I feel proud of our way of handling nuclear waste in Sweden. The expert group gives us and everyone involved in the Swedish nuclear waste programme a good rating in this review," says Jessica Palmqvist, Acting CEO of Sweden's radioactive waste management company Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB (SKB). "Being able to take part in the experts' conclusions means that we have the opportunity to further strengthen the handling of the radioactive waste even though we already have a safe and robust system today."

SKB submitted applications to build Sweden's first nuclear fuel repository and an encapsulation plant to SSM in March 2011. In January 2022, Sweden's Minister of Climate and Environment announced that construction of the final repository for used nuclear fuel in Forsmark and the associated fuel encapsulation plant in Oskarshamn can proceed.

SKB announced on 8 May that a poll by Novus shows support for final disposal facilities in Östhammar and Oskarshamn are now at a record level, with 86% of the municipality's residents supporting its plans to build a final repository for used nuclear fuel in Forsmark and an encapsulation facility in Oskarshamn. Just over 90% of residents in both municipalities believe that SKB will contribute positively to local development.

"We are proud of the municipal residents' great support and trust," said SKB's communications manager Anna Porelius. "It creates good conditions for the final disposal of used nuclear fuel in Sweden, which is important for fossil-free electricity production.

"SKB has a world-leading, approved method for final storage of residual products from nuclear power plants. Two municipalities want to host the final disposal facilities and the financing is secured. It is a sustainable system where the generations that use nuclear energy take responsibility for the entire life cycle."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News