Swedish regulator supports repository expansion

18 January 2019

A permit for the expansion of the existing SFR repository for low- and intermediate-level waste should be granted under the Sweden's Environmental Code, the country's Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has recommended to the Land and Environment Court in Stockholm.

The SFR facility near the Forsmark nuclear power plant. The existing part is shown in grey, with the planned extension shown in blue (Image: SKB)

The SFR repository at Forsmark, in the municipality of Östhammar, is situated 50 meters below the bottom of the Baltic Sea. It comprises four 160-meter-long rock vaults and a chamber in the bedrock, with a 50-meter-high concrete silo for the most radioactive waste. Two parallel one-kilometer-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 has the capacity to store about 63,000 cubic meters of waste.

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, to about 200,000 cubic meters. The extended part of the repository will consist of six new rock chambers.

The application is being reviewed by both SSM and the Land and Environment Court. The SSM is considering 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 is 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.

SSM yesterday issued a statement to the Land and Environment Court recommending that SKB is granted a permit for the expansion under the Environmental Code.

"The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority considers that SKB can be granted a permit under the Environmental Code for expanded operations at SFR," SSM said. "Based on the authority's need for a basis for taking a position on the application, we believe that the environmental impact assessment can be approved and that SKB has complied with the general rules of the Environmental Code on protecting people and the environment against the harmful effects of ionising radiation."

SSM said it has concluded that SKB's choice of method and location for the waste storage at the SFR facility takes into account the requirements of the Environmental Code. "SKB has shown that long-term radiation safety can be achieved with the reference design it reported in its application, and that the expansion and operation of the plant can be carried out in a radiation-safe manner," it said. "Furthermore, the Authority considers that SKB, for the issue of radiation safety, has shown that the company has the competence and ability required for the applied business to comply with the provisions of the Environmental Code."

The main hearing for SKB's application in the Land and Environment Court is expected later this year, after which the court will submit its assessment to the government on whether the permit should be granted under the Environmental Code. SSM will separately issue its assessment to the government of the application under the Nuclear Activities Act. The final decision to authorise the project will then be made by the government.

SKB CEO Eva Halldén said, "We are pleased that the Authority's assessment is that SKB has shown that an expanded SFR remains safe during both operations and in the long term." The company noted that an expansion of SFR is a prerequisite for the final disposal of low- and intermediate-level waste from the decommissioning of Sweden's nuclear power plants.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News