On the evening of 13 October 2020, an extra municipal council meeting was held in Östhammar Municipality where the Forsmark nuclear power plant is situated. After a debate where some council members wondered why the municipality is in such a hurry and not waiting for either review results from the LOT experiment or a question from the government, the council voted to give an unreserved yes to establishing the spent fuel repository at Forsmark.
With the figures 38 votes for and 7 votes against, Östhammar's municipal council took the following decision:
"The council of Östhammar Municipality approves that Svensk kärnbränslehantering AB [SKB] establishes facilities for final disposal of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste from the Swedish nuclear power program according to the KBS-3 method in Forsmark in Östhammar Municipality."
The decision was expected as the public opinion in the community has for many years been for the planned repository. Between 70 and 80 percent have been positive in polls carried out repeatedly since many years. The community is heavily reliant on the jobs provided by the nuclear industry, both the Forsmark nuclear power plant and the existing repository for the Swedish short-lived operational radioactive waste. In addition, The Swedish nuclear waste company SKB has integrated itself into the community providing support for sports and culture. There is also an agreement for compensation to the community if the government approves the spent fuel repository.
The Swedish government is preparing for a decision on whether to approve the licence application from the Swedish nuclear waste company SKB to build a spent fuel repository at Forsmark. According to the Environmental Code (Chapter 17 §6) the government is obliged to ask Östhammar municipality if the municipality approves or rejects the nuclear fuel repository in Forsmark (the veto issue). A positive decision by the community is necessary before a possible admissibility decision on the nuclear fuel repository is taken. Instead of waiting for the question from the government, the municipality now precedes the veto issue by making a decision in advance on the issue.
Miljöorganisationernas kärnavfallsgranskning MKG (The Swedish NGO office for Nuclear Waste Review) sees the decision as unfortunate as the elected representatives in Östhammar risk having made a decision on incorrect grounds and with inadequate evidence. This is because there is still significant scientific controversy in whether long-term safety is satisfactory with a repository according to the KBS-3 method. The scientific basis for the function of the copper canisters has been questioned by both the Land and Environmental Court and the Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste.
During the summer and autumn, the nuclear waste company SKB has reported recent new results from the so-called LOT experiment in the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory, where copper has been exposed to a repository environment for twenty years. The results show extensive corrosion with pitting that is contrary to the assumptions made in the safety case for the spent fuel repository. The copper corrosion results are now being reviewed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) with external consulting support.
Whether the copper canister behaves as intended or not in the repository environment is a very important safety factor. MKG believes that the new results from the LOT experiment can provide a decisive answer to whether copper is a suitable canister material or not. It is possible that SSM's view of the safety of the repository could change – it is positive now – and the government's decision can be influenced by such a change. Östhammar Municipality now risks ending up in a situation where a decision has been made but where the view of long-term security changes after the decision.
See also the following news articles on MKG:s English pages: