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SKB license application show serious shortcomings

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Joanna Widstrand

In March 2011, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, SKB, submitted an application to build a repository for spent nuclear fuel near the nuclear power plant at Forsmark, about 160 km up the coast from Stockholm. In accordance with Swedish law the application was circulated for comment among all the institutions and organizations that have participated in the Environmental Impact Assessment consultations. Comments were to focus on perceived gaps in SKB’s environmental impact statement. The deadline for comment was 1 June 2012. 

Several parties to the consultations note serious shortcomings in the application and the environmental impact statement (EIS). They include the two national level environmental groups who have taken part in the consultations, namely, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, SSNC, with its sister organization The Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review, MKG, and Milkas, representing the Swedish Anti-Nuclear Movement and Friends of the Earth Sweden.

SKB's license application will now be processed through two parallel reviews in the Swedish legal system: one performed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), who will check the application’s compliance with current legislation in the radiation safety area, and the other performed by the Environmental Court, who will examine its compliance with the Environmental Code. SSM plays two parts in the pro-cess: it is a reviewing body in its own right, and it acts as a consultative body to the Environmental Court. 

The initial phase, in which the need for amendments to the application is to be analysed, is common to both SSM‘s and the Court’s review. This first step of the licensing process is important, since it represents an opportunity for input of a broad range of opinions on the application through a national consultation process. When the present consultation process is ended, the Environmental Court and the SSM will proceed to review the application for as long as they find necessary and then determine what amendments are necessary. Only when the application is complete will the authority and the court start the main review process. If the court decides that the amendments are not satisfactory, the application may be rejected.

In the main review there will be a new consultation on the issues and there will be a hearing; thereafter the court and the regulator will submit their assessments of the application to the Swedish Government. The Government will then decide the final repository’s fate, either granting a license to SKB or rejecting the company’s application, taking due account of the recommendations of SSM and the Environmental Court.

Issues concerning longterm safety
SKB’s proposed method for final disposal of spent nuclear fuel is a KBS-3 repository, the longterm safety of which relies on artificial barriers of copper and clay. The 5 meter long fuel rods are to be put in a total of 6,000 canisters made out of copper, which are to be depo-sited in shallow boreholes about 500 m down in the Forsmark bedrock. The boreholes and access tunnels are to be filled out with bentonite clay with the intention to keep the spent nuclear fuel encapsulated and separated from the biosphere for as long as the contents pose a hazard – in essence, for all time to come. The bentonite clay is supposed to protect the copper canisters from contact with groundwaterleading fissures in the surrounding bedrock. The main function of the clay is for it to swell when in contact with water, pretty much like cat litter does. Once saturated, it is expected to keep the canisters and the spent fuel shielded from their surroundings. SKB assures us that everything will be fine.

However, the organizations who participated in the EIA consultation process are of a different opinion. Particularly critical are, besides environmental organizations, the Swedish Environmental Agency, the municipalities of Östhammar and Oskarshamn, the Royal Institute of Technology, and Lund University. 

The main critique presented in the SSNC’s and MKG’s consultation document is that the company’s application does not contain scientific evidence to support the claims for longterm safety of the repository. Copper corrosion, for example, is a problem that has not been sufficiently investigated by the company. In order for the bentonite clay to function as the intended isolator in the repository, a specific amount of water – not too much, not too little – needs to be present in the bedrock so that the bentonite will start swelling. If the clay does not get activated, which is a possible scenario in the relatively dry Forsmark bedrock, there is an imminent risk that the clay will be affected by the heat and radioactivity coming from the canisters and possibly erode. Given an eroded buffer, the canisters would be exposed to water seeping into the repository, which may corrode the copper canisters. The interplay between the copper and clay in a repository environment is another area that requires further investigation. In sum: It is not  acceptable to build a repository that is supposed to be safe and protect humans and the environment from radioactive waste/pollution/toxicity for over 100,000 years, when so much research on such key issues is still lacking.

Milkas seconds the criticisms put forward by the SSNC and MKG. In addition, Milkas raises issues relating to the geological characteristics of the chosen site. A coastal site like that at Forsmark implies the risk that ground-water will readily spread any leakage from the repository into the Baltic Sea. In the longer term there is the problem of coming ice ages. The repository is to be installed in a tectonic lens – a body of crystalline granite in the midst of a shearing zone. Whereas the zone is stable at present, it may very likely be reactivated under the strains associated with glaciation. On the whole, SKB tends consistently to underestimate the seismic effects of glaciation. The installation of the repository in the lens, in itself, may impair the integrity of the lens, in which case the whole repository is at risk – perhaps even a good deal earlier than the next ice age.

Other concerns include an apparent inability on the part of the applicant to elaborate scenarios that challenge the success of the repository project. Both the Government and the regulatory body have pointed to this bias and called for such scenarios. None has been forthcoming. As a result, we are left to rely on assurances.

A good share of Milkas comments, addressed specifically to the Environmental Court, concerns procedural as well as substantive shortcomings in the EIA process and the EIS in relation to the requirements of the Environmental Code. In Milkas’ view, the applicant has effectively subverted the dialogic method that the Code envisages to ensure allround evaluation of major projects’ environmental consequences.

What next?
SSM's comments on the need for amendments are to be handed in to the Environmental Court by November 1. At the same time the Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste, a consultatory scientific board to the Swedish Government, will give their view. After that, correspondence between SKB and the various organizations who participated in the consultation process will take place in order to discuss the additional work to be required of the company. The Court’s determination on the issue of amendments is expected at the end of 2013, at the earliest. The story continues…

Source and contact: Joanna Widstrand, former project assistant at MKG, the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review.
Tel: +4631-711 00 92
Email: jo.widstrand[at]

WISE Sweden

Transuranics, mercury and banned fluids discovered in Swedish nuclear waste repository

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén − WISE Sweden

The Spent Fuel Repository (SFR) at Forsmark is the only final repository for nuclear waste in operation in Sweden today. Intended to receive short-lived nuclear isotopes, SFR has long been criticised for both its location and its design. Opened in 1988, it is a child of 1950s and 1960s thinking. Only 60 metres beneath the sea on Sweden's Baltic coast, the repository was created to leak its contents into the Baltic, which Swedish nuclear regulatory authorities still regard as an "appropriate recipient".

One of the facilities that has deposited waste at SFR is a waste treatment facility at Studsvik, another coastal site. Studsvik, too, has been harshly criticised for the effluents it flushes into the sea. It is reputed to be the number one source of caesium pollution to Baltic waters. Studsvik AB has also been a concern on dry land − time and again authorities have urged the company to improve the documentation of its waste management.

In February of this year, some 7,000 metal drums of waste stored at Studsvik were examined to determine their contents. The drums in question contain waste from the early years of Sweden's nuclear industry, when the aim was to develop a nuclear deterrent. It is, in other words, waste from weapons research. They are stored on site, pending the creation of SFL − a special repository for long-lived intermediate-level waste.

There is no proper record of the contents, and the drums are not easily examined. Deep inside several consecutive drums is a concrete block, which isolates whatever needed to be put away. An examination carried out in February, which combined gamma radiation readings and X-ray inspection of the drums, turned up a number of unpleasant surprises: fluids (roughly five cubic metres distributed over some 2000 of the drums, some of which is presumed to be nitric acid), mercury (an estimated 65 kg), lead, and transuranics, including an estimated 300 g plutonium, perhaps twice that amount according to nuclear chemist Christian Ekberg from Chalmers Technical University. Fluids, no matter what kind, are banned because they convey radioactivity so efficiently.

These finds prompted suspicions about the 2,844 drums from Studsvik that, presumed to contain only short-lived isotopes, are already stored in SFR. In early May it was determined that all the Studsvik waste, including the drums in the SFR repository, will have to be X-rayed, sorted and/or treated and then repackaged. Some materials will need to be isolated in blocks of concrete. These various operations will require a new facility.

Retrieval of the waste from SFR, the new facility, and X-ray processing will each be costly. In Sweden the processing and management of nuclear waste is financed via a surcharge on electricity. There is also a specific surcharge of 0.002 euros/kWh to cover the costs of waste from Studsvik. In other words, users of electricity will be footing the bill for decades of nonchalance on the part of the nuclear industry.

Swedish Radiation Safety Authority
The discovery raises a number of issues relating to Swedish nuclear protection philosophy. Both the shallow SFR repository and the very profitable reprocessing plant at Studsvik have their basis in how the regulatory authority, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), goes about assessing the environmental consequences of nuclear facilities. The starting point in SSM's approach is the number of human beings that may come in harm's way as the result of the activity in question.

Sweden is a big country with a small population (roughly 9 million). Large expanses of the country are very sparsely populated. Furthermore, it is difficult to demonstrate how pollution of the Baltic Sea affects human health. Thus, SSM may be more generous in its estimation of the amount of radiation that poses a risk. A case in point: one of the most widely criticised design features of the SFR repository is that it is planned to be filled with sea water once the last drum of waste is in place. There is no doubt that the repository will leak – "from Day One" in the words of Anders Siebert at SSM at a recent hearing. Thus "dilute and disperse" – normally a fallback strategy when the first rule, "concentrate and contain", has failed – is standard practice in Sweden.

In an international context, this approach to human health consequences is also the key to the competitive advantage a company like Studsvik enjoys − it can process scrap imported from countries like Germany, where stricter regulations might render the processes more costly or rule them out entirely.

We should also bear in mind the evolution that has taken place in the field of radiation protection. Professor Jonas Anshelm of Linköping University has analysed ideas about nuclear waste in Sweden in recent decades. Ideas about what is to be considered 'waste', the amount of waste involved, and how long it needs to be isolated, Anshelm says, have changed over the years. "In the 1960s it was encased in concrete and dumped into the sea. In the 1970s, the industry's experts assured us that the waste would fit into a chamber the size of a sports hall. In the 1960s, storage for 100 years was considered sufficient, but today the consensus among experts is that it needs to remain isolated for over a hundred-thousand years," Anshelm points out. Presumptions have changed radically, and they will most surely continue to change, he concludes.

Anshelm is seconded by Sven Odéus, spokesman for Svafo AB, the company in charge of the Studsvik waste. An investigative journalist for Swedish radio asked Odéus how the debacle could arise:

"I think it was just a case of poor management. I don't think it was a deliberate act."

"You mean, they were just careless?"

"Well, I wouldn't say 'careless'. It was the thinking of the day." (Sveriges Radio, Klotet, 6 May 2013.)

The reporter notes that the most recent drums in the Studsvik collection were packed in 1997.

Questions remain: Has the predominant thinking within the industry's waste management company, SKB, evolved? And, if not, is there a will on the part of the regulator to make it evolve?


Power failure at Forsmark
May 30 − one of the Forsmark reactors in Sweden was taken off line for a scheduled check-up and repairs. Shortly thereafter electrical power supply to the reactor went dead, and no emergency back-up power from the mains kicked in. Fortunately, the control room staff was able to start up the diesel generators manually.

The operator assured the public that when offline, a reactor can go without cooling several days before the situation posses a threat. Still, the incident demanded an explanation, and it turns out that the emergency back-up power supply kicks in automatically only when the reactor is online. Whether the system will be automated even during offline periods has yet to be decided.

The strange thing is that the power supply systems were overseen as recently as 2006. Then, power failure deactivated several safety functions while the reactor in question was online. Several experts spoke of a "20 minutes to meltdown" incident. That may be the reason why the regulatory agency SSM has classed this recent failure as a "Class 1" incident. Permission to restart the reactor will be granted only after a thorough report from the operator. The power supply to other reactors at the station are now under review, as well.

Upsala Nya Tidning, 31 May 2013; WISE Sweden

Please note - we made an editing error in Charly's article. The Swedish 'SFR repository' is not the planned repository for spent nuclear fuel. It is, as the second line of the article makes clear, a repository planned for short-lived isotopes, in operation since 1988. Apologies to Charly for our editing error.

WISE Sweden

The review process in Sweden for management of spent nuclear fuel

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

On 16 March 2011 the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) ( submitted applications to build a final storage facility for spent nuclear fuel, called KBS-3, at Forsmark. This is the only public review process in the world for dealing with a spent fuel management proposal submitted for legal review by the nuclear industry. Comments from anyone anywhere in the world may be submitted to the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority and the Environmental Court.

Two applications KBS-3 at Forsmark were made by SKB: one to the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM)  according to the Nuclear Activities Act and one to the Environmental Court according to the Environmental Code. The applications are together about 9,000 pages of which about 2,000 pages are the same. Some of all this material is in English and some in Swedish. The volume has been growing steadily as translations have been made between the two languages, errata submitted and numerous associated documents added.

Further, in April 2010 the Swedish Government requested a review by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD NEA). The review is administered by SSM. The OECD NEA appointed a 10 member international review team that began working in May 2011, with Michael Sailer from the Öko-Institut in Germany as Chairman.

The Environmental Court and SSM have only published the respective application submitted to them on their respective websites. Both applications are published on SKB’s website. However, it is only the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (MKG) that has published both applications as well as all associated documents for both applications on their website. The Environmental Court and SSM, with one exception, only publish an index of documents associated with the respective application that they received – not the full documents as MKG does. The exception is the documents for the OECD NEA review, which SSM is publishing. However, both the Environmental Court and SSM will provide printed documents on request for a fee and some documents by e-mail at no charge.

The first stage in the review processes of both the Environmental Court and SSM is examination of completeness of the respective application submitted. The Environmental Court has requested “comments regarding the need for any supplementary information.” SSM requests comments on “the quality of the application, e.g. whether or not there are deficiencies in the documentation.”

The current deadlines for comments regarding needs for additional information are 1 June 2012 for public comments to SSM and 16 April 2012 to the Environmental Court for everyone except the Municipalities of Oskarshamn and Östhammar, which have until 1 June 2012 (the same deadline given to everyone by SSM). SSM is a main consultation body for the Environmental Court and has been given until 1 November 2012 to submit its comments. The Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste, a committee under the Ministry of the Environment, has also until 1 November 2012.

After any required additional information is incorporated, the Environmental Court currently expects to release the revised application for public comment at the end of 2013, and hold a “main hearing” in the early fall of 2014. The “main hearing” is for oral presentations and is open for the public to make pre-registered submissions and to attend.

This schedule assumes the unlikely occurrence that SKB will be able to comply with requests for additional information within only a few months.

The OECD NEA review is scheduled to be completed by June 2012. The review team has not solicited comments from the public though SSM forwards comments from interested parties to the review team. The OECD NEA International Review Team held hearings of SKB in Stockholm 12, 13 and 15 December 2011 and commented on preliminary findings on 16 December 2011, when a 15 minute question session with the team Chairman was allowed. SSM invited a limited number of observers to participate in these sessions, including representatives from the three environmental groups (Milkas, MKG and SERO) that receive funding from the Nuclear Waste Fund to participate in the overall review process. All the sessions were webcast (see below).

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency has responsibility regarding the Espoo Convention to circulate SKB’s revised application according to the Environmental Code (i.e. earliest at the end of 2013).

Contact Information
* Milkas coverage of the review process:
* Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (MKG),
* Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), comments should be sent to in order to be entered into SSM’s index system.
* Information on the OECD NEA review is at: The page is in Swedish but all the attached files are in English, which are at
* The webcast archive of the sessions 12, 13, 15 and 16 December 2011 can be found via:
* The OECD NEA International Review Team Chairman Michael Sailer:,
* The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency,

Nacka District Court, Land and Environmental Court, Comments should be sent to in order to be entered into the Environmental Court’s index system.

Source and Contact: Miles Goldstick, Miljörörelsens kärnavfallssekretariat, Milkas (The Swedish Environmental Movement’s Nuclear Waste Secretariat). Tegelviksgatan 40, 116 41, 116 41 Stockholm, Sweden.
Tel. +46-8-559 22 382
Mail: info[at] 

Swedish nuclear industry wants reactor waste facility at Forsmark

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Miles Goldstick

On 3 June 2009 the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co (SKB) announced it’s decision to apply to build a reactor-waste storage facility on the coast of the Baltic Sea at Forsmark, in the municipality of Östhammar, about 120 km north of Stockholm. The method, called KBS3, involves placement of the waste in copper canisters surrounded by clay and put in tunnels 500 meters underground in bedrock.

The announcement was made at a highly orchestrated press conference with the heads of the two competing municipalities of Oskarshamn and Östhammar obediently taking part. The decision came despite many fundamental issues remaining to be determined. Environmental groups have been quick to point out that a location can not be chosen before a method is approved and that in any case an inland location is preferred from the perspective of risking further radioactive pollution of the Baltic Sea. Further, it is uncertain if the bedrock is suitable from the perspective of geological stability and groundwater flow, and if the local conditions will result in copper corroding at an unacceptable rate. None-the-less, SKB has reason to be so bold as they have won almost unanimous support in all quarters other than from environmental groups.

The next step is for SKB to present a preliminary environmental impact assessment (EIA) for review by all stakeholders, which is currently planned for mid-2010. SKB’s schedule it to submit the final EIA to the Environmental Court during 2010. That review is expected to take about a year. Once the Environmental Court makes its decision, the government must then give its position, which can be to either agree or disagree partly or completely. Finally, the municipality of Östhammar must also agree or disagree partly or completely. In other words, SKB has a long way to go, and several bridges to cross that could result in long delays, before their method and location gets final approval.

For more information see the following websites:,,,,

Source: Miles Goldstick
Contact: FMKK, Tegelviksgatan 40, 116 41 Stockholm. Sweden.
Tel: +46 8 - 84 14 90