Swedish regulator studies securing repository knowledge

05 October 2021

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has published a report on ways to inform future generations where radioactive waste has been disposed of and how it should be handled. The report was commissioned by the government to examine different methods for how information and knowledge about the final repository for used nuclear fuel can be secured over a long period of time.

A rendering of how Sweden's underground repository for used fuel could appear (Image: SKB)

In 2011, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency initiated the Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory Across Generations (RK&M) project. The purpose of that project was partly to develop the theoretical basis, and partly to develop concrete proposals, for information and knowledge preservation further into the future.

The main recommendation from the RK&M project, which ended in 2018, was that the preservation of information and knowledge should apply a so-called systemic strategy. This, the final report said, will involve using different methods, media and content, across different time scales with several actors and places. Nine categories of methods were developed: final repository documentation; memorial institutions; markers; time capsules; culture, education and art; knowledge management; oversight provisions; international mechanisms; and the legal basis.

SSM took the RK&M project recommendations as a starting point in compiling its report. In addition to the completed RK&M project, SSM notes there are several other international working groups that have worked or are working on issues that concern the preservation of information and knowledge.

In its report, SSM reviews the methods that can be used so that future generations do not inadvertently affect the final repository resulting in harm to people and the environment. 

No unique solution

According to SSM, the RK&M project's description of methodology and various methods for information and knowledge preservation should form the basis for the development of a strategy for the geological final repositories in Sweden for used nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste. It noted there is no regulatory requirement that such a strategy must be developed in order to be able to make decisions on admissibility under Sweden's Environmental Code and permits under the Nuclear Activities Act. However, it said such a strategy should be developed during the step-by-step process that follows a decision on a permit in accordance with the Nuclear Activities Act. "Important factors in the application of a strategy in Sweden are that it is started at an early stage and that it involves several different actors in the area with clear responsibilities," it said.

"The purpose of information and knowledge preservation after closure can in summary be expressed as reducing the probability of unintentional future human impact on the repository and giving future generations the opportunity to make well-informed decisions regarding the final repository and its contents," the report says. "The latter may apply, for example, if in the future for resource reasons it would be relevant to retrieve the used nuclear fuel or to be able to take appropriate measures to protect people and the environment in the event of unexpected events if necessary."

"The issue of information and knowledge preservation should not only be seen as a technical issue but from a broader perspective; one societal challenge where technological development interacts with organisational, social and cultural aspects," SSM said. "Social and cultural aspects can have greater potential to bring to life the memory of a final repository far into the future than technical solutions can allow. It is therefore important that the issue of information and knowledge preservation continues to integrate expertise from many different fields of science and to create platforms where nature-society and humanities can be met with the intention of increasing knowledge of how a complex message should be able to be passed on into the future."

"It is about preserving information for future generations so that they have the opportunity to, for example, take back the deposited nuclear waste in a radiation-safe way, should it become relevant," said Annika Bratt, co-author of the report. "It is an extensive task that extends over long periods of time. At the same time, the work needs to start now."

The question of what the right solution is arouses great interest among the public, noted Carl-Henrik Pettersson, co-author of the report. "However, there is no unique solution for how information and knowledge preservation should take place, but it is about implementing different methods that complement each other in different ways and thus provide good opportunities for information and knowledge to be passed on into the future."

Going forward, SSM sees that the issue is also relevant for other activities with long-lived hazardous waste, and sees a need for broad cooperation with other authorities. It says it is also important that the municipalities concerned are given good opportunities to participate in the continued work.

"The municipalities have a specific role in that it is in the municipalities that the local community involvement exists. The municipalities can contribute to the practical and concrete work needed to disseminate and pass on information and knowledge," said Bratt.

Repository plans

Swedish radioactive waste management company Svensk K√§rnbr√§nslehantering AB (SKB) submitted applications to build Sweden's first nuclear fuel repository and an encapsulation plant to 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.

In August, the Swedish government announced its decision to approve an expansion of the existing Clab interim repository for used fuel while continuing to consider the application for a final repository.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News