On 11 June, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), the Friends of the Earth Sweden and the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (MKG) submitted a legal brief with 25 appendixes to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. The organisations urge the government to say no to the spent nuclear fuel repository because there is already a sufficient legal basis for doing so. Alternatively, the government can continue the environmental review of the licence application to further strengthen the basis for a decision concerning the long-term safety of the repository, especially the issue of copper corrosion. In the brief, the organisations state a number of points that the government should take into account in the continued review of the spent nuclear fuel repository application. First, the government should handle the application for increased capacity for the intermediate storage for spent nuclear fuel, Clab, separately. Then the government should demand scientifically reported results from the copper corrosion in the LOT experiment.
The licence application for a spent nuclear fuel repository and increased interim storage capacity of spent nuclear fuel in Clab is under review by the government at the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. Prior to the government's final decision, the SSNC, the Friends of the Earth Sweden and MKG have wanted to summarize and highlight the issues raised in the organisations´ previously submitted briefs and to present current views on issues concerning the risks of copper corrosion and the impact on the repository's long-term safety. In the organisations' brief with 25 appendices submitted on June 11, the following is stated in summary (the points the government should take into account if further review is found necessary, come at the end):
[This is a translation made by MKG where some changes have been made in order to make it more understandable to a non-Swedish reader.]
"In previous legal briefs to the government in the review of the spent nuclear fuel repository, the organisations have stated the following on issues:
1. The organisations have deemed that the complementary information on copper corrosion submitted in April 2019 to the Government by the nuclear waste company Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB (SKB) did not meet the requirements set by the Land and Environmental Court. This has also been confirmed by prominent independent scientific expertise. This means that since the autumn of 2019, the government has had access to a sufficient legal basis for taking a decision not to grant a permissibility for the spent nuclear fuel repository application in accordance with the Environmental Code and to refuse a licence in accordance with the Nuclear Activities Act.
2. The organisations have previously stated that the government can conclude that the Land and Environment Court through the court’s opinion to the government in January 2018 clearly stated that the court made the assessment that the factual and legal assessment of SKB's documentation made by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) up to the time of the authority's opinion to the government on the same date has not been in accordance with the general rules of consideration in the second chapter of the Environmental Code.
3. The organisations have stated the importance that the government, in the event that despite what has emerged in the case – the assessment is made that additional evidence is needed before a permissibility decision, ensures that it can acquire a comprehensive and scientific analysis of the copper corrosion in the two 20-year experimental packages retrieved in the autumn of 2019 in the LOT experiment conducted by SKB. The organisations have stated that SKB has for at least 10 years shown a striking lack of interest in having these LOT experimental packages being analysed for copper corrosion. This disinterest has remarkably been reflected in a corresponding disinterest on the part of SSM.
4. Unlike SKB and SSM, the organisations have been of the opinion that, and in previous legal briefs have shown that, the copper corrosion results from the 20-year experimental packages if they are reported in a fully scientific way can show that copper does not behave in the repository environment in the way SKB describes in the safety analysis of the application. The organisations understand that it cannot be ruled out that for this reason SKB took as long as possible to retrieve the LOT experimental packages, then did so in the secretly and after this was discovered, initially claimed that the results would not be presented until after a licence for the application had been given.
5. The organisations have emphasized the importance of ensuring a quality assurance of the copper corrosion results from the retrieved LOT experimental packages in a way that was transparent and with the possibility of full openness to other actors. The organisations have stated that it is of vital interest that the government's decision on the spent nuclear fuel repository can be based on an analysis of copper corrosion in the LOT experimental packages that cannot be questioned, and that if there are still uncertainties about the interpretation of the results, these must be clarified.
6. The organisations have stated in particular that SKB's safety analysis must be based on a sound scientific basis for copper corrosion in order to allow the approval of the safety analysis and the environmental impact statement based on it. The organisations have given a detailed argumentation as to why it is not possible to prioritize the importance of the copper canister's function in the safety analysis with reference to the fact that there are also barriers of clay and rock that also contribute to safety. With an incomplete knowledge of the long-term integrity of the copper canister, it is not possible to reliably calculate the possibility for the spent nuclear fuel repository to meet the risk criteria in the safety analysis. Thus, the safety analysis cannot be approved, nor can the environmental impact statement based on the safety analysis be approved. An approved environmental impact statement is a process prerequisite for granting permissibility in accordance with the Environmental Code. The spent nuclear fuel repository application can thus not be granted if it is not clearly established that SKB's description of the scientific basis for the long-term integrity of the copper canister is legally satisfactory.
In this legal brief to the government, the organisations state the following on issues:
7. The copper corrosion results from the two 20-year experimental packages in the LOT experiment that SKB published in the autumn of 2020 in the report SKB TR-20-14 did not have sufficient scientific quality to provide a sufficient basis for understanding how copper was affected during the experimental period. However, the organisations understand, with the support of prominent independent scientific expertise, that the results reported in the report strengthen the government's basis for not granting permissibility and permission for the spent nuclear fuel repository application.
8. The most serious scientific shortcoming in the report is that the most corroded copper surfaces in the LOT experimental packages have not been examined in detail. Thus, SKB's work to produce the results presented in the report cannot be considered to have reached a scientific level or the requirements for an environmental impact statement in the Environmental Code. The organisations are of the opinion that if the extent and characteristics of the corrosion on these surfaces had been reported in a scientific manner, it would have been obvious that copper cannot be used as a capsule material in the spent nuclear fuel repository. The organisations understand that the government can draw the same conclusion and thereby deny permissibility and permission for the spent nuclear fuel repository application.
9. SKB claims that the copper corrosion which took place in the LOT experimental packages, the extent of which has not yet been adequately scientifically reported, was caused by oxygen which was trapped in the experiment from the start or that could have leaked in during the experiment. Unfortunately, the oxygen content inside the experimental packages has not been measured. The organisations claim that the copper corrosion that has taken place has been of an extent that cannot be explained by oxygen that has been trapped in or leaked into the packages and are supported in this view by prominent scientific expertise and SSM's expert support in the regulatory quality assurance review. The organisations understand that the government can draw the same conclusion and assume that there is extensive oxygen-free copper corrosion in the LOT experimental package that cannot be explained on the basis of SKB's information, which makes it necessary to deny the permissibility of and acceptance of the spent nuclear fuel repository application.
10. In the event that the government considers that more clarity is needed on the question of how much copper corrosion has occurred in the LOT experimental packages, the government can ensure that the copper corrosion is scientifically reported in detail on the surfaces that are most corroded, i.e., the hottest surfaces on the central copper pipes and base plates. This can be done by means of an additional decision supplementing the government decision on SKB's research program Fud-2019 from 10 December 2020. As SKB's work to present copper corrosion results from the LOT experiment has not yet reached scientifically acceptable levels, the analyses and reporting of results must be carried out in a way that ensure that they are scientifically reported.
According to the organisations, a supplementary scientific report will very likely show that the corrosion could not have been caused by oxygen that was trapped in or leaked into the packages, as the corrosion will prove to be more extensive than is possible according to this explanatory model. This will mean that SKB's safety analysis in the spent nuclear fuel repository application is not based on a sufficient scientific basis regarding copper corrosion. Thus, the environmental impact statement based on the safety assessment cannot be approved and the application cannot be granted permissibility or a licence.
11. If, after a scientific complementary description of the copper corrosion, there is still uncertainty as to the extent to which the copper corrosion may have been in caused by oxygen trapped in or leaked into the LOT packages, the issue can be resolved with a relatively simple additional experiment in conjunction with the still ongoing LOT experiment in the Äspö hard rock laboratory. In the event that the government needs additional basis for a decision, the government can ensure that such an experiment is carried out, for example through an additional decision on supplementing the government decision over SKB's research program Fud-2019. As SKB's work to produce results from the LOT experiment has so far not reached scientifically acceptable levels, the analyses and reporting of the results of a supplementary experiment must be carried out in a way that guarantees that they will be scientifically reported.
12. The organisations have long understood that since copper was chosen as a capsule material in the late 1970s, SKB has not carried out a single scientific experiment with copper and clay in a repository-like environment where oxygen consumption is also measured, and that has shown that copper behaves as theoretically assumed in the safety analysis in the spent nuclear fuel repository application. The organisations understand that if the government wants additional information before a decision on permissibility and licensing, the government can ensure that large-scale autoclave experiments are carried out which, if done correctly, can provide a good basis for showing whether copper is a suitable canister material or not. This can also be achieved through an additional decision on supplementing the government decision on SKB's research program Fud-2019.
13. Since the spring of 2016, when SSM submitted the authority's opinion on issues to the Land and Environment Court, the organisations have found it remarkable that the authority essentially only reports SKB's views in the ongoing environmental review – and approves them. This was obvious during the main hearing in the Land and Environment Court and has continued in the opinions that SSM has submitted to the government. Despite the fact that SSM had its own procured evaluations from prominent scientific expertise that questioned the content of the complementary information on copper corrosion that SKB submitted to the government in April 2019, SSM remarkably stated that the authority had been strengthened in its view that the spent nuclear fuel repository would have a long-term radiation safety.
14. SSM has repeatedly stated that the authority cannot see that there can be any results from the LOT experiment that could change the authority’s view of how copper reacts in an oxygen-free spent nuclear fuel repository environment. During 2020 and at the beginning of 2021, the authority carried out work to assure the quality of SKB's report of the copper corrosion results from the LOT experiment. Through MKG, the organisations have shown in four scientifically structured contributions in English with input to SSM's review and a letter with overall views in Swedish to SSM that SKB's reporting is not scientific and expressed concern that the authority has already decided in advance that the LOT experiment results are not important for the assessment of the long-term safety of the spent nuclear fuel repository. On 11 March, SSM informed the government that the authority had found the inadequate scientific reporting of the LOT results to be adequate and that the results had not affected the authority's assessment of the long-term safety of the spent nuclear fuel repository. The organisations find that SSM in the review of the LOT experiment uncritically supported SKB's attitude and inadequate reporting in such a way that the obligations entrusted to an authority were not fulfilled.
15. The organisations have carefully followed and analysed the question of the risk that the intermediate storage for spent nuclear fuel, Clab, at Oskarshamn's nuclear power plant will become full and how this may affect the operation of the Swedish nuclear power plants. The organisations have come to the conclusion that since there is also available storage capacity at the nuclear power reactors, their operation will not be threatened until the end of the 2020s. However, the organisations understand that despite this it is important that a government licence to increase the capacity of Clab from 8,000 tonnes to 11,000 tonnes can be granted as soon as possible so that the nuclear industry's existing routines for handling spent nuclear fuel can be followed as far as possible. The organisations assess that due to appeals and continued proceedings in the Land and Environmental Court, it will take at least five years before a positive government decision for SKB on the permissibility of and licensing of the spent nuclear fuel repository, including the increase in capacity of Clab, can have legal force. If the government decides not to grant permissibility of and a licence for the spent nuclear fuel repository application, there will be no licence for an increase in Clab capacity. The organisations understand that it is the government's responsibility to ensure that the nuclear power industry's routines for handling the spent nuclear fuel can be maintained and that the government should therefore separate the application for expanding the capacity of the intermediate storage for spent nuclear fuel, Clab, from the spent nuclear fuel repository application. Only if a separation of the review of the applications takes place can SKB be guaranteed a licence for an increased capacity of Clab in the near future.
16. A licence for increased capacity for the intermediate storage for spent nuclear fuel, Clab, from 8,000 tonnes to 11,000 tonnes does not mean that the activities at the plant will change. The increased capacity is achieved by compacting the storage of the spent nuclear fuel element in compact cassettes. Such compaction, e.g., "re-racking", has already been going on for many years and a licence for increased capacity only means that operations can continue as before but with more spent nuclear fuel. The organisations understand that this means that the government should be able to use the opportunity according to § 2 in chapter 17 of the Environmental Code that if there are special reasons allows the government to refrain from reviewing the application. The government can likely then only refer the case to the Land and Environment Court that can grant a licence. The government must also grant a licence under the Nuclear Activities Act only for the expansion of the capacity for Clab, for further handling by SSM.
17. The organisations understand that if the government does not choose to take the opportunity to refrain from reviewing the increase the capacity of the intermediate storage for spent nuclear fuel, Clab, the government can instead try the issue separately. The Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste has also shown this possibility in a statement to the government.
18. The organisations understand that the municipality of Oskarshamn has no opportunity to object legally to the government taking its responsibility and separating the review under the Environmental Code of an increase in the capacity of the intermediate storage for spent nuclear fuel, Clab, from the review of the spent nuclear fuel repository application. The municipality has not made any such reservations in its veto decision to approve the repository. According to the first paragraph in § 6 of chapter 17 of the Environmental Code the community could possibly be able to assert the right to reject the permissibility of a separate decision on Clab. It is unclear whether a municipality can withdraw an approval, especially with reference to a requirement that has not previously been commented on to the government. But since the condition that the government according to the same provision in the second paragraph can still grant permissibility "if the activity is of the utmost importance with regard to the national interest or where no other site is considered more appropriate for the activity or if an appropriate site has been not been designated for the activity in another municipality which is likely to approve the site”, the municipality's veto could not prevent the decision.
In this legal brief to the government, the organisations understand that if the government, despite the extensive evidence available, is not yet ready to deny permissibility of and a licence for the spent nuclear fuel repository application, the government can present a plan for continued environmental review to further strengthen the decision basis. According to the organisations, the government should take into account the following points in such a further review of the spent nuclear fuel repository application:
a) The government should first deal separately with the issue of the licence to expand the capacity of the intermediate storage facility Clab. This gives the government time and space to continue reviewing the spent nuclear fuel repository application, especially regarding the issue of the long-term integrity of the copper canister and the risk of SSM's risk limit being exceeded that the Land and Environment Court raised in the opinion to the government in January 2018.
b) The Government should make it clear to SKB that a decision on the permissibility and licensing of the spent nuclear fuel repository cannot be given until adequate scientific detailed analyses of the most corroded surfaces in the 20-year LOT experimental packages are presented and evaluated. Both the hottest parts of the central copper pipes and the base plate must be examined.
c) If the results according to point b) do not give a clear indication of whether the extensive corrosion may be due to oxygen that has been trapped in or leaked into the LOT experimental packages or not, the government should make it clear to SKB that the permissibility of and a licence for the spent nuclear fuel repository cannot be given until experiments have been carried out to resolve the issue. This is most easily done by emplacing a simplified LOT experimental package in the Äspö laboratory at the same location and with the same implementation as originally, with the difference that the oxygen content in the experiment is measured.
d) Since neither SKB nor SSM alone or together can be considered credible for reporting and quality assurance of the results under points b) and c) in a scientific way, the government must find ways to guarantee that this happens. Here, the Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste could play an important role in ensuring that interested actors and independent expertise have insight, and also access to data for their own analyses.
e) The Government should also consider clarifying to SKB that before giving permissibility to or licensing of the spent nuclear fuel repository, large-scale autoclave experiments with copper and clay must be carried out in a heated oxygen-free repository-like environment.
f) As the probable outcome is that SKB cannot demonstrate that SKB's current concept for a spent fuel repository (the KBS method) is compatible with the requirements of the Environmental Code, a plan must also be formulated to develop a new safe method for the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel. The organisations understand that a short-term plan is needed to investigate whether minor changes to the KBS method, for example with other material choices in the canister, may be sufficient to achieve satisfactory safety. On the other hand, a parallel, more long-term plan is needed to investigate other repository methods, e.g., the use of deep boreholes, in the event that the assessment is made that the KBS method cannot be modified in a way that can ensure long-term safety."
MKG is, however, of the understanding that any method depending on artificial barriers to guarantee long-term safety for hundreds of thousands of years in granite rock with circulating ground-water should not be licenced, especially given the experience with the problems of the copper canister of the KBS method.
The full legal brief (in Swedish) that develops the points with references and the 25 appendices can be found in a news article on the MKG Swedish web site.
See also the following news articles on MKG:s English pages: