The nuclear power industry needs to manage around 12,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority will conduct a review to ensure that the industry’s proposal for disposal of the spent fuel is sound in terms of nuclear safety and radiation protection. The Swedish Government will decide whether or not the repository will be constructed. Östhammar Municipality may exercise a veto in the matter and could thus say 'no'.
The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, or ‘SKB’, will construct and run the planned repository. In March 2011, the company plans to submit licence applications for construction of a repository in Forsmark, located in Östhammar Municipality. The application under the Nuclear Activities Act will be reviewed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority and the application under the Environmental Code will be reviewed by the Environmental Court. The Authority and Court will then submit their respective recommendations to the Government, which will in turn decide on the matter.
Review by experts
The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority will assess SKB’s choice of site and method on the basis of statutory requirements imposed to ensure safety and radiation protection. The Authority will engage qualified experts to assist in the review work, including in-house staff and expert consultants. The Authority also imposes requirements on the kind of organisation that will construct and manage the spent fuel repository.
In connection with this review, the Authority will also consider the site chosen by SKB for the repository in Östhammar Municipality. The municipality may exercise a veto and could thus say 'no' to a repository.
For more than 25 years now, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority and its predecessors (the Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate, or SKI, and the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority, or SSI) have been reviewing the nuclear power industry’s development work, and in particular, the RD&D programme involving research, development and demonstration.
“Around twenty employees at the Authority review the RD&D programme,” says Georg Lindgren, an analyst at the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority in charge of reviewing SKB’s RD&D programme. “Our viewpoints have the aim of making SKB’s programme fit for purpose. The RD&D process will give public insight into the repository issue in terms of SKB’s work and our viewpoints.”
Over the years, the Authority has established ties with a large number of international experts and teams of experts in various scientific disciplines and fields of technology. These experts conduct research, develop calculation models and contribute by providing underlying documentation for the Authority’s reviews. During this period of time, the Authority has built up a good capacity to review analyses of a repository’s long-term radiation safety.
What's more, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority will request an independent peer review by international experts of those parts of SKB’s licence application relevant to long-term safety. This peer review will be conducted by the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), which is OECD’s forum for co-operation related to nuclear energy issues.
How did it all begin?
After the Second World War, nuclear energy became an area of industrial and defence-related importance. As Sweden’s dependence on nuclear power grew, this area gained importance, with a focus on how spent nuclear fuel should be dealt with.
“Industry and public authorities were from the outset aware that radioactive waste must be managed with care and with the future in mind,” says analyst Stig Wingefors at the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. “This involved relatively small quantities of waste until nuclear power reactors were commissioned on a large scale in the early 1970s.”
Initially, the Swedish nuclear waste programme was based on reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, but the possibility of direct disposal of spent fuel without reprocessing was to be investigated.
“Reprocessing of nuclear fuel was abandoned fairly early on as a number one option,” says Mr Wingefors.
The ‘Stipulation Act’, which entered into force in 1977, meant that new reactors could only be commissioned if the reactor licensee could demonstrate completely safe management of fuel and waste.
The Nuclear Activities Act of 1984 stipulated that the industry must, every three years, report on a programme for the research and development work needed to enable construction of a repository.
These ‘RD&D’ reports are submitted to public authorities for review and are subject to approval by the Government.
The Swedish Environmental Code, which entered into force in 1999, requires an environmental impact statement to be produced by the industry in consultation with the parties affected by a repository. The environmental impact statement must describe the consequences for people and the environment of constructing a repository.