Sweden has decided where to put nuclear waste permanently

The Swedish government has approved an ambitious long-term storage plan for waste, making it one of the few countries in the world to have identified a site where more radioactive waste could be stored indefinitely. The decision came after nearly 50 years of debate and conflict over the need to find a permanent area to store the radioactive waste generated by the country’s nuclear power plants, but the project could take many more years to become fully operational.

Sweden Production About 35 percent of its electricity is generated thanks to three nuclear power plants, with a total of six active reactors fitted. In recent years, other plants have closed, and those currently in use are expected to continue to generate electricity until at least 2040.

Since the first reactors were commissioned in the early 1970s, Sweden has produced about 8,000 tons of radioactive waste, of which 7,500 are stored at the Oskarshamn Medium Storage Site on the east coast of the country.

The debate over finding a permanent place to store waste in Sweden began with the launch of the first reactors. Through commissions and experts, various governments have commissioned a search for an area large enough to keep them safe and free from the dangers of pollution, but have not reached a definitive solution.

After postponements and controversy, in 2011 SKB, a nuclear waste company controlled by Sweden’s nuclear manufacturers, finally made a proposal to build an underground storage facility in the town of Forsmark, about an hour away. Uppsala District. This area was already known as the site of one of the country’s nuclear power plants, of which it had failed for some time. A major nuclear reactor accident in 2006.

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The SKB’s proposal led to a new protracted conflict at the political, technical and regional levels, with the involvement of citizens in the area concerned. In 2021, the Environmental Party Greens abandoned the ruling majority and did not agree with the pressure to approve the plan.

La Ministra dell’Ambiente, Annika Strandhll, he said It was recently stated that the project will be gradually upgraded, taking into account the technical and scientific evaluations of SKB’s proposals. However, he added that the issue of nuclear waste could not be postponed any longer.

Critics of the initiative are particularly skeptical about the safety of SKB’s proposed waste storage system. Based on the company’s planning method KBS-3, Including the creation of three “safety barriers” to isolate radioactive material and prevent contamination. The site will be built at a depth of 500 meters and will include several tunnels where sludge will be stored.

(SKB)

The first barrier contains five-meter-long cylindrical copper containers, each filled with 25 tons of radioactive waste. The outer layer of this type of barrel is about five centimeters thick, which, according to SKB, is sufficient to resist the corrosive processes or movements of the rock to be excavated.

Copper cylinders for storing waste (Wikimedia)

The second barrier contains bentonite, a clay material that can be used to fill tunnels once the cylinders have been deposited with sludge inside. Over time, bentonite absorbs moisture and water, further clogging the rock material around the cylinders, preventing it from polluting the surrounding environment if one of them breaks.

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The SKB says the third barrier will consist of the same rock layer in which the mines will be dug.

At a depth of 500 meters in the rock, the waste could be isolated “from humans and the environment for at least 100,000 years,” the company said.

However the KBS-3 system has received some Reviews Especially with regard to the forecasts for the life of copper cylinders. Research groups and experts have been debating for years about the use of this metal and its resistance to radioactive waste. In the event of cracks in the cylinders, there is no consensus on the ability of the bentonite and rock layer to completely contaminate the surrounding environment with radioactive material and prevent contamination.

Over the years, these objections have been linked not by a few decades, but by other estimates of the risks that may arise over the centuries. While it is unpredictable what will happen in Sweden as in other parts of the world, it is not clear what the fate of access storage sites will be in the long run. In the future they may be forgotten, no longer marked and their access routes are not protected. Accidental contamination can occur following the access of unknown persons, or through the activities of obtaining radioactive material and using it for illicit purposes.

The Swedish government hopes that these types of risks will be minimal and manageable in any case, at least in the future, as temporary waste storage areas will not be comparable to the risks involved on a daily basis, safety and control of any pollution. The Swedish Radiation Safety Commission has expressed its positive views on the safety systems in Forcemark. If not postponed, the first distribution of waste will take place by the end of 2023, while the site will be fully operational by 2025.

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