The new Minister of the Environment presents a timetable for decisions on the spent nuclear fuel repository and SFR 2

The new Minister of Climate and Environment Annika Strandhäll at a press conference on December 8 presented a timetable for a decision on the planned repository for spent nuclear fuel in Forsmark, and a decision on the extension of the current repository for short-lived radioactive waste (SFR 2). The nuclear fuel repository decision will be taken on January 27, 2022, and the SFR 2 decision already on December 22. 

The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, the Swedish Friends of the Earth and the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (MKG) want the government to say no to both repositories. The organisations are of the opinion that it has still not been shown that the spent nuclear fuel repository is safe enough and believe that the LOT experiment can, if necessary, be used to develop more knowledge about copper as a canister material before a decision is made. If the government intends to say yes to the start of construction repository, the decision should follow the Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste's proposal to condition an approval to more research and that a separate decision under the Environmental Code be given separately to start operation when that time.

The license application for the planned repository for spent nuclear fuel repository in Forsmark has been on the government's table since January 2018. At that time the Land and Environmental Court said that permissibility under the Environmental Code cannot be granted until it is shown that the copper canisters that are to isolate the spent nuclear fuel from mankind and the environment for hundreds of thousands of years works as planned in the repository environment. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) at the same said time that the repository can be approved. The license application for the extension of the repository for short-lived radioactive operational waste (SFR) under the seabed outside Forsmark with a new repository for short-lived decommissioning waste (SFR 2) has been on the government's table since both the court and SSM in the autumn of 2019 recommended that permissibility according to the Environmental Code and permission according to the the Nuclear Activities Act can be given. The municipality of Östhammar has approved that both repositories can be built.

At a press conference on December 8, the new Minister of Climate and Environment Annika Strandhäll presented a timetable for a decision on both repositories. The spent nuclear fuel repository decision will be taken on January 27, 2022, and the SFR 2 decision as early as on December 22.

The change in tempo on the repository decisions is a result of the government crises that occurred at the end of November when the Green Party left what is now is Social Democrat only minority government. The previous Minster of the Climate and Environment from the Green Party, Per Bolund, had been hesitant on taking a decision on the repositories and was still investigating the copper corrosion issues when the unforeseen crisis came.

Already before the time plan was revealed, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation had sent an open letter to the Minister stating a worry about a too quick decision on the spent fuel repository. After the press conference, the organisation sent out a press release (both can be found on the MKG Swedish web page, see below).

Annika Strandhäll took over as the new Minister of Climate and Environment on November 30. At the end of August, the previous government took a separate decision to allow increased capacity in the intermediate storage facility for spent nuclear fuel, Clab, at Oskarshamn's nuclear power plant. Continued review of the Clab issue continues both in the Land and Environmental Court and at SSM and permits to expand the capacity from 8 000 tonnes to 11 000 tonnes may be finalised already by the end of 2022. Thus, the alleged threat to continued operation of the Swedish nuclear power plants due to Clab becoming full has been averted.

There has been pressure on the previous government to make a quick decision on the nuclear fuel repository. The political opposition in parliament had threatened with a motion on non-confidence against Per Bolund and continued to threaten Annika Strandhäll after she took the new position. She was also summoned to a hearing on the nuclear fuel repository in the at the parliament’s Finance Committee on December 9 and chose to announce the decision dates at a press conference in advance.

The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, the Swedish Friends of the Earth and the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear waste Review (MKG) want the government to say no to both repositories.

The organisations are of the opinion that it has still not been shown that the spent nuclear fuel repository is safe enough and that the additional information on copper corrosion provided by provided by the nuclear waste company SKB in the spring of 2019 did not provide a satisfactory answer to the issues the environmental court wanted the government to clarify regarding the long-term integrity of the copper canisters. The organisations also believe that if the government needs more knowledge about how copper works in a repository environment before a decision is made, the LOT experiment can be used to provide the necessary knowledge. If the government intends to say yes to the repository, the organisations want decision to follow the proposal of the Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste Council to condition the decision to the need for more copper corrosion research, and also that only a licence under the Environmental Code to start construction be given and a separate decision to start disposal should be taken later. The organisations have said this in statements to the government on June 11 and November 4, and also in op-eds in the largest Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

Regarding the decision on SFR 2, the organisations stated at the main hearing of the Land and Environmental Court in the autumn of 2019 that the safety analysis for the repository had not sufficiently considered the complicated groundwater flows under the seabed off Forsmark. The natural environment in the area risked being damaged by the repository starting to leak faster than expected. In addition, there is a relatively unexpected and extensive breakdown of the repository barriers in the existing repository SFR. The organisations therefore believe that if the expansion of the repository is allowed, the entire repository should be kept open under surveillance for at least 400 years instead of being closed when it becomes full.

The news article in Swedish with links to documents and web pages can be found here

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