The Swedish approval allows SKB, the developer of Sweden’s deep geological repository, to take final steps and preparations for initial construction of the facility close to the Forsmark nuclear power station, about 140 km north of Stockholm.
“It is an historic decision that gives SKB the opportunity to dispose of the nuclear waste that our generation has created,” said SKB’s chief executive officer Johan Dasht. “That is a very welcome message. We are now looking forward to implementing Sweden’s largest environmental protection project.”
SKB said the project involves investments “in the order of” SEK 19 billion (€1.8bn) and will create approximately 1,500 jobs. The project is being financed by contributions that have already been made by nuclear operators to a national nuclear waste fund.
SKB has been working on research and development of the repository for over 40 years. The plans have been reviewed and assessed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) and the Land and Environment Court.
The approval sees Scandinavia lead the way in repository development, coming only weeks after Posiva Oy, the company responsible for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel in Finland, submitted an operating licence application for a final disposal facility at Olkiluoto in Finland.
SKB’s proposal is for spent nuclear fuel to be encapsulated in copper and nodular cast iron at a facility in Oskarshamn municipality before being transported to the final repository at Forsmark, in the municipality of Östhammar. Both host municipalities have voted in favour of the plans.
The next step in the permitting process is for the Land and Environment Court to set conditions for the facilities. SSM will also decide on permit conditions. Only when all permits are in place can the construction projects begin.
SKB said it hopes construction of the facilities will start in the mid-2020s and take about 10 years to complete.
In 1992, every local authority in Sweden was invited to take part in the site selection process and the search was eventually narrowed down to two communities in Ӧsthammar and Oskarshamn.
Comprehensive site investigations over five years, covering geology, hydrology, ecology and social impact, led to a decision in favour of the Forsmark site where the granite rock is 1.9 billion years old.
Approximately 800 scientific reports were produced during the Forsmark site investigations, 25 cored boreholes were drilled, up to 1,000 metres deep. Altogether, 16 kilometres of drill core samples were extracted.
When fully developed, some time in the 2080s, the repository will comprise around 60 km of tunnels with space for more than 6,000 canisters of spent fuel.
Sweden already operates a repository for shorter-lived radioactive waste at Forsmark, which opened in 1988 and extends to a depth of 50 metres below the seabed of the Baltic.
An application to extend this repository was submitted in 2014 and granted by the government in December 2021, following approval by SSM and the Land and Environment Court, as well as the municipality of Ӧsthammar.
In 1980, Swedes voted to phase out nuclear power, but increased demand for energy and the need to address climate change led to a change of tack and in 2010 parliament agreed to the continued operation of existing reactors as well as leaving open the option of their eventual replacement.
Sweden has six commercial reactors in operation at three nuclear stations: two at Ringhals, three at Forsmark and one at Oskarshamn. In January 2021, Ringhals-1 became the fourth commercial nuclear reactor to close in five years. The others were Ringhals-2, Oskarhamn-1 and Oskarhamn-2.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, nuclear generated about 30% of the country’s electricity in 2020, down from 34% in 2019.