Sweden issues permits for spent fuel repository, encapsulation plant

February 2, 2022, 9:33AMRadwaste Solutions
Rendering of the Forsmark geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel in Sweden. Below ground, the repository covers three to four square kilometers at a depth of 500 meters. (Image: SKB)

The government of Sweden announced on January 27 that it has issued a permit to the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) to build a deep geological repository for spent nuclear fuel at Forsmark in the municipality of Östhammar. The government also issued a permit to construct a spent fuel encapsulation plant in Oskarshamn, where the country’s inventory of spent fuel is currently being stored.

“Sweden and Finland are the first countries in the world to take responsibility for nuclear waste,” said Annika Strandhäll, Sweden’s minister for climate and the environment. “This will be a secure spent fuel repository that will provide safety for both the environment and people. In addition, it provides long-term conditions for the Swedish electricity supply and Swedish jobs.”

SKB, which was formed to manage and dispose of all radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel from Sweden’s nuclear power plants, submitted permit applications for the repository and encapsulation plant for review in March 2011. The Swedish government said that the applications meet the requirements of the Swedish Environmental Code and the Nuclear Activities Act.

The KBS-3 method: The method SKB uses for the final disposal of the spent nuclear fuel is called KBS-3 and is based on three protective barriers: copper canisters, Bentonite clay, and the Swedish bedrock. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) reviewed the disposal method and recommended that the government grant licenses for the repository and encapsulation plant in 2018. In approving the permits, the Swedish government said it supports SSM’s expert assessment that the KBS-3 method is the best possible technology for final disposal, is safe, and meets the country’s legal requirements over a very long time.

Also in 2018, Sweden’s Land and Environment Court, which held hearings on SKB’s application, agreed with the company’s findings on issues relating to the Forsmark site, the Swedish bedrock, clay buffer, and SKB’s environmental impact statement. In addition, the municipalities Östhammar and Oskarshamn, which had retained the right of veto in the matter, both agreed to host the SKB facilities.

What next: The next step in the licensing process is for the Land and Environment Court to establish conditions for the facilities. The SSM will also decide on permit conditions under the country’s Nuclear Activities Act. SKB said that construction can start only when all licenses are in place, after which time it will take about 10 years to build the repository.

According to SKB, the final repository project will bring investments of around 19 billion Swedish kronor (about $2 billion) and will create about 1,500 jobs. The projects will be financed by funds from Sweden’s Nuclear Waste Fund.

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