Swedish utilities urge decision on final disposal of waste

06 May 2021

Ringhals AB and Forsmarks Kraftgrupp AB each issued an Urgent Market Message (UUM) to the Nord Pool power exchange yesterday morning about the potential risk of Ringhals units 3 and 4 and Forsmark units 1, 2 and 3 being unable to restart following scheduled outages - in 2024 (F2), 2025 (R3-4, F3), and 2028 (F1) - because of a lack of storage space for used nuclear fuel.

Ringhals nuclear power plant (Image: Vattenfall)

The UUMs from Forsmarks Kraftgrupp AB and Ringhals AB noted that this situation is an indirect result of the Swedish government's slow handling of an application to construct a final repository for used nuclear fuel, which also contains an application to extend the intermediate storage facility, Clab. This slowness is despite the fact the Swedish nuclear industry has for decades been making financial contributions to a special waste management fund for the construction and operation of both the intermediate and final waste storage facilities.

"The Swedish management model for used nuclear fuel hinges on us being able to send the used fuel for intermediate storage as soon as it is possible to do so," Björn Linde, the CEO of Ringhals AB and Forsmark Kraftgrupp, told World Nuclear News. "The fuel pools we have on site are smaller in size, and we store as little fuel as possible in the pools for safety reasons. We are also required to always keep space in the pools for the entire core’s fuel in case we would have to completely empty the reactors."

The application, originally submitted to the Swedish government in 2011, also requests a licence extension for the intermediary storage of used fuel at Clab, which is next to the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant. Clab is licensed to store up to 8000 tonnes of fuel and currently holds 7300 tonnes. It is estimated that its storage space will run out towards the end of 2023. The application, made by SKB, seeks a licence expansion to 11,000 tonnes, which Clab can technically accommodate.

Forsmark nuclear power plant (Image: Vattenfall)

Both the Oskarshamn Municipality, the host of the Clab facility, and the Östhammar Municipality, the proposed host of the final repository, have approved the application, but the Swedish government has yet to do so, even though it has had the application since 2019. Once the government gives its approval, a specialist court and the nuclear safety regulator SSM would continue the examination of the permit, a process that is expected to take two years. That is why the UUMs conclude that government approval is needed "no later than 31 August 2021 in order not to risk that the intermediate storage of used fuel reaches the existing permit".

"These five reactors make up the vast majority of Sweden’s nuclear fleet and have played a crucial role in providing its citizens and businesses with clean and affordable electricity for decades," said Sama Bilbao y León, director general of World Nuclear Association. "There is scientific consensus that deep geological repositories are suitable for the safe long-term management of used nuclear fuel; indeed, Sweden is a pioneer in the development of these repositories. The Swedish government must urgently review the application submitted by SKB and ensure that these reactors can continue to serve the community for many more decades."

John Lindberg, public affairs manager at the Association, added: "The Swedish government has made it abundantly clear that action on climate change is urgent and yet its concerted effort to delay the approval of the waste repository is forcing the premature closure of the country's reactors. Doing that to the low-carbon backbone of Sweden's economy would decimate the nation's climate goals."

Sweden's nuclear power reactors provide about one-third of its electricity, but in 2015 decisions were made to close four older reactors by 2020, removing 2.7 GWe net. In December 2020, Ringhals unit 1 became the fourth reactor to close in Sweden in the previous seven years. Currently six nuclear reactors are in operation in Sweden: three units in Forsmark, two in Ringhals and one in Oskarshamn.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News