Nuclear power: Swedish government initiates construction of a nuclear waste repository


The Swedish government has approved the application by the disposal company Svensk Kärnbränslehantering (SKB) to build and operate a facility for the disposal of spent fuel from nuclear power plants. So far there is no such facility in the world.

The plant is to be built in Forsmark, almost 140 km north of the Swedish capital Stockholm. 12,000 tons of encapsulated nuclear waste is to be stored at a depth of 500 m. It may take another 70 years until then.

The plan envisages the KBS-3 method for disposal. KBS stands for KärnBränsleSäkerhet, i.e. nuclear fuel safety. The spent fuel elements are encapsulated in copper canisters, which are then surrounded by a buffer of bentonite clay and deposited in emplacement openings in a tunnel system at a depth of around 500 m in the bedrock. The three barriers canister, buffer and rock are intended to isolate the radionuclides in the fuel.

Schematic representation of the KBS-3 method.

(Image: SKB)

For KBS-3, among other things, findings were used that resulted from investigations at the natural reactor Oklo in Gabon. There you can see how radioactive substances have spread in nature over a period of 2 billion years. The Swedish government appeals according to its own statements on the assessment of experts from the local radiation protection authority that this is the best possible technology for a repository. It is also expected to meet the requirements of the legislation “in the very long term”.

“We and Finland are the first in the world to take responsibility for nuclear waste,” writes the Swedish government. A repository is already being built in the neighboring country, which is expected to go into operation in the middle of this decade; the KBS-3 principle is also used there.

“It is irresponsible to leave nuclear waste in water tanks year after year without making a decision,” said Swedish Environment Minister Annika Strandhäll. “We must not pass this responsibility on to our children and grandchildren.”

The search for a suitable site for a repository began more than 30 years ago, explains SKB. Between 1993 and 2000, the company conducted feasibility studies in eight communities. From 2002 to 2007 site investigations were carried out in Forsmark in Östhammar Municipality and in Laxemar/Simpevarp in Oskarshamn Municipality. Forsmark turned out to be the better alternative.

SKB has been operating a repository for radioactive waste with a short half-life in Forsmark since the late 1980s. Forsmark is also one of three sites of the six reactors currently in operation in Sweden, where three have been running since the 1980s.

The next station in the approval process is the regional and environmental court, which can set conditions. The Swedish Radiation Protection Agency must then examine the application. The project also includes a plant that encapsulates the nuclear waste in copper.

A repository for nuclear waste is also to be built in Germany. The area suitable for this is currently being narrowed down; so far, due to the geological conditions, 54 percent of the federal territory is in the extended selection.


To home page