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Environmental licensing of the Spent Fuel Repository has started

The main hearing on SKB’s application for a licence to build a system for management and disposal of Sweden’s spent nuclear fuel started September 5.

The main hearing takes place during five weeks. The first two weeks will be in Stockholm, followed by one week in Oskarshamn and Östhammar Municipality before the hearing is concluded with a final week in Stockholm.

– We look forward to the review of the final disposal project in the Land and Environment Court. The environmental licensing is an important step in our task to manage the spent nuclear fuel in Sweden safely over the long term, says Eva Halldén, Managing Director of SKB.

After the hearing, the court withdraws to write its statement. No judgement will be given in this case, but the court will present a statement to the Government on whether the activities are permissible under the Environmental Code.

The Government grants a licence

SKB’s application is also being reviewed under the Nuclear Activities Act. The review is done by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, which has stated that it will submit its statement to the Government at about the same time as the Land and Environment Court submits its statement. Thereafter, the municipalities concerned, Östhammar and Oskarshamn, will submit their views to the Government, which takes the final decision on whether to grant a licence for the project.

SKB submitted the original application in 2011. Since then, it has been reviewed by various experts and supplemented according to the referral procedure of the court.

Research and technology development

The extensive application, covering more than 10,000 pages, is based on the research and technology development conducted by SKB for nearly 40 years, in parallel with the siting process. SKB carried out feasibility studies in eight municipalities and site investigations in two municipalities before Forsmark was chosen as a suitable site in 2009.

SKB’s method for final disposal of the spent nuclear fuel is called KBS-3 and is based on three protective barriers: copper canisters, bentonite clay and the Swedish bedrock. The licensing process includes a final repository in Forsmark, an encapsulation plant next to the interim storage facility in Oskarshamn (Clink), and transportation.

Summary of week two

A week with many replies

The second week of the main hearing began on Monday, September 11th, with the continued presentation of their views by the other parties. Issues such as copper corrosion in an oxygen-free environment, the siting of a final repository on the coast and the method deep boreholes were discussed.

The afternoon was devoted to SKB’s replies. SKB presented these by topic and first was our reply on deep boreholes, followed by a reply concerning radiation risks. The last topic of the day was our reply on copper corrosion, where SKB answered the court’s question of why SKB has chosen copper as the canister material and responded to all views presented by the other parties. Uppsala university was also present and presented the university’s study of copper corrosion in oxygen-free water. There was a lively discussion, which concluded the day.

SKB continued to reply on both Tuesday and Wednesday. The function of the bentonite, fractures in the buffer, rock stresses, earthquakes, canister durability and post-closure safety were some of the issues discussed. Tuesday afternoon was concluded with a reply concerning the choice of the site Forsmark for the Spent Fuel Repository. On Wednesday, replies followed to questions regarding, for example, background radiation in Forsmark, earth-tide and how the closure of the Spent Fuel Repository will be carried out.

Responsibility after closure

The court requested answers to the questions asked on day one of the hearing, concerning the responsibility of a licence holder after closure and whether this requires any regulation in the licence under the Environmental Code. The requirements according to the Nuclear Activities Act are that the Spent Fuel Repository shall be designed, constructed and operated in such a way that no active measures are required after closure. Therefore, according to SKB’s view, there is no need to regulate issues concerning post-closure measures in the licence under the Environmental Code. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), the County Administrative Board in Uppsala, Östhammar Municipality and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation presented their opinions in these matters. Several parties were of the opinion that some form of regulation is required.

Next on the schedule were the EIS and consultations. SKB described how and why consultations were held and how the results were integrated into the Environmental Impact Statement, which in turn is a part of SKB’s application. SKB also presented the Environmental Impact Statement broadly. Detailed descriptions of environmental consequences will be presented in Oskarshamn and Östhammar as the hearing continues at each location. In conclusion, the court presented the viewpoints provided by Esbo consultations.

Parallel licensing processes

On the last day of the hearing, the court started by asking the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) and SKB questions that it wants to have answered during the last week of the hearing. The question to SSM was about the long-term impact on biodiversity and ecosystems. The questions to SKB concerned SKB’s view on the parallel licensing processes under the Nuclear Activities Act and the Environmental Code and the licences that may be the result of them.

The afternoon was devoted to final comments concerning copper corrosion, since there was not enough time in the beginning of the week. SKB described how we have approached the issue of copper corrosion in oxygen-free water and why we can claim that copper corrosion in oxygen-free water does not affect the long-term safety of the Spent Fuel Repository.

The hearing will continue on October 2nd in Oskarshamn.

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