Spent nuclear fuel repository

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority is in the process of reviewing the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company's (SKB) application for permission to construct a repository for spent nuclear fuel. The Authority expects to complete its examination of the application in 2017. This is when we will submit our statement to the Government, which takes the decision on whether SKB will be permitted to construct the repository.

Approval of SKB's (the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company) licence application from the industry is the first stage in a process that would lead to construction and operation of a repository for spent nuclear fuel near the Forsmark nuclear power plant. SKB has submitted an application that is now undergoing review by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. The Authority has the assistance of a wide range of national and international experts.

Swedish legislation requires producers of nuclear energy to also manage all waste from their reactors. The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, or SKB, which was founded by the nuclear power companies in the 1970s, is currently planning to construct a geological repository for spent nuclear fuel.   A geological repository implies storing spent nuclear fuel safely over several hundred thousand years. This is because spent nuclear fuel is an environmental hazard and it takes a very long time for the radioactivity to diminish.

SKB has proposed construction of the repository in Östhammar Municipality, in close proximity to the Forsmark nuclear power plant. The intention is to dispose of the spent fuel 500 metres underground in the bedrock. SKB is planning to launch construction of the spent nuclear fuel repository in the early 2020s; however, these plans are subject to approval by the Swedish Government.

Performing reviews of repository safety

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority undertakes assessments of SKB’s plans to ensure that both the site and method for final disposal are sufficiently safe. A repository must not expose people or the environment to more radiation than one-hundredth of the level of background radiation. This restriction applies now and for the protection of future generations.

Background radiation is largely from natural sources. Examples include radiation from the ground, radon from building materials and cosmic radiation (from space).

When our review of SKB’s application is complete, we will forward a statement of our findings to the Swedish Government. In our statement, we will propose that the Government either grant a licence to SKB or reject its application. We plan to submit our pronouncement to the Government in 2017.

Broad range of knowledge about aspects of final disposal

Over the past three decades, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority and its predecessors (the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority, or SSI, and the Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate, or SKI) have been reviewing the nuclear power industry’s research, development and demonstration programme in support of the development of a spent nuclear fuel repository. Consequently, we have built up a good capability to analyse a geological repository’s long-term radiation safety: 

  • The Swedish Radiation Protection Authority carried out two large-scale safety analyses in the 1990s. One safety analysis dealt with aspects that might have a future impact on a geological repository: climate change, for instance. One of the analyses was reviewed by international experts and was rated highly.
  • The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority has developed its own calculation models, for example models of how radioactive substances from the repository can be dispersed in the environment.
  • We also liaise with a large number of national and international experts and teams of experts. They represent many different specialties. These experts possess extensive knowledge since most of them have been working with repository-related matters for many years.

International co-operation

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority takes part in international co-operation and research relating to final disposal, such as in the European Union and OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). A task group of the NEA has also performed an independent peer review of parts of SKB’s application.

In addition to these areas, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority runs research and development projects together with government authorities in other countries. One example is STUK–the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority–which is the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority’s sister authority in Finland.