Swedish government gives go-ahead for used fuel repository

27 January 2022

Construction of the final repository for used nuclear fuel in Forsmark and the associated fuel encapsulation plant in Oskarshamn can proceed, Sweden's Minister of Climate and Environment Annika Strandhäll has announced.

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

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.

The government has now announced it has assessed that the applications meet the requirements of the Environmental Code and the Nuclear Activities Act and therefore allows the encapsulation plant and the final repository to be constructed. "The government supports the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority's expert assessment that the technology for the final repository is the best possible and that the method with the three barrier functions is safe and meets the requirements of the legislation, even in a very long time perspective," it said.

Further steps in licensing process

The government will now hand over the case in accordance with the Environmental Code to the Land and Environmental Court at Nacka District Court, which will issue a permit and prescribe more detailed conditions for the operation of the facilities.

With the government's decision, SKB has received a permit in accordance with the Nuclear Activities Act. The decision has the condition that SSM shall carry out a continued step-by-step assessment, where future research and technology development will be part of the continued process.

"We look forward to moving on to the next step in the process," said Peter Selting, head of SKB's department for safety, quality and environment. "Now there are many details that will be reviewed and approved in the coming years, both in court and in the step-by-step review by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority."

SKB's application to extend the storage capacity of Clab was approved by the government on 26 August last year. On the 22 December, it approved the extension of the final repository for short-lived radioactive waste.

SKB's construction projects will involve large investments, especially in the municipalities and regions concerned. In total, SKB will invest approximately SEK19 billion (USD2 billion), mainly in the construction sector, rock work and installations. It is estimated that it will take about ten years to build the used fuel repository.

"Now it will be full speed ahead to be ready to start building when all permits are in place," said Johan Hedlund, head of SKB's project department. "It will be a new, intense and fun period in SKB's history. It is now that we will complete our assignment to take care of the Swedish nuclear waste."

"It is irresponsible to leave nuclear waste in water basins year after year without a decision," Strandhäll said. "We must not hand over the responsibility to our children and grandchildren. Our generation must take responsibility for our waste. Therefore, the government allows the next step in the review process. Everyone can feel secure that the process continues via the Land and Environmental Court and the step-by-step review under the responsibility of the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority."

She added: "We and Finland are the first in the world to take responsibility for nuclear waste. This will be a safe final repository that provides security for both the environment and people. In addition, it provides long-term conditions for Swedish electricity supply and Swedish jobs."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News