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Down to Earth...and Below
Sweden's Plans for Nuclear Waste

by Claes Thegerström

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Aespo Hard Rock Laboratory

Significant progress in the area of nuclear waste management has been made in several countries during the last few years. Siting decisions for deep repositories were taken in Finland - with almost unanimous support in the national parliament as well as locally - and in the USA where the Yucca Mountain project enjoyed a majority vote in the US Congress. In Sweden, the final phase of the voluntary siting process has commenced with site investigations in two municipalities. In France, work on the underground research laboratory (URL) at Bure is progressing.

Several other countries have experienced difficulties or significant delays in their programmes. This means that while many countries still have a long way to go in order to arrive at concrete decisions about implementation of deep disposal, some countries such as Finland and Sweden are now approaching the licensing phase. In the case of Sweden, we plan to be able to start the licensing of the deep disposal system within the next few years.

The Swedish System

SKB, the Swedish Nuclear Waste Management Organization, has developed a system that ensures the safe handling of all kinds of radioactive waste from Swedish nuclear power plants for the foreseeable future. The cornerstones of this system are:

The missing link in the system is the final approval of a method, and the location of a site, for the final disposal of high-level waste, i.e. the spent fuel, as well as a final repository for long-lived intermediate waste.

The plan for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel is to encapsulate it in durable copper canisters and place it (embedded in betonite clay) in a deep repository approximately 500 metres down in the bedrock (the KBS-3 method). The work on research, development and demonstration of deep geological disposal of spent fuel has been an intensive one lasting for more than 20 years.

Site Investigations and Stakeholder Involvement

Actual siting work on the deep repository began in the early 1990s. SKB concluded that the strong political power of municipalities in Sweden concerning local issues and the special character of the nuclear waste issue will by necessity lead to a need for local understanding and support for the project in order to be able to construct and operate a repository. It was judged necessary to create a participatory and voluntary process in order to achieve such understanding. This approach was well supported by almost all the stakeholders.

In the year 2000, SKB presented an integrated account of the methodology for final disposal of spent nuclear fuel, the selection of sites and programme for the site investigation phase. The proposal was to proceed with site investigations in three of the communities where feasibility studies had been made. After a review by the regulatory agencies, the Swedish Government in 2001 endorsed SKB's proposal. The municipalities of Östhammar and Oskarshamn approved SKB's plans to proceed with site investigations, while the municipality of Tierp rejected further participation in the siting process.

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