Vattenfall and SKB warns against delays to Swedish repository

2 September 2021

Power company Vattenfall warned on 31 August that it will have to close four of its five reactors in Sweden by 2025 because of the uncertainty over how the government plans to deal with the storage of used nuclear fuel. The Swedish government on 26 August approved plans to expand the Clab intermediate nuclear storage facility in Oskarshamn, but delayed a decision on a permanent repository for used fuel. The decision has created uncertainty over whether storage will be available in time to secure the continued operation of Sweden’s reactors, Vattenfall said in a statement.

Sweden’s NPPs supply about a third of its power. Sweden, which also depends on renewables for a large part of its power production, will also need nuclear as well as emission cuts from its heavy industry and transport to reach its net-zero goal by 2045. 

The possibility of restarting four reactors at the Ringhals and Forsmark NPPs after maintenance in 2024 and 2025 is “not foreseeable at the moment”, Vattenfall said in a filing to market operator Nord Pool. “The government decision has created uncertainties in the legal procedure for obtaining final decisions on storage of nuclear fuel.”

Since October last year, a proposal for expansion of the temporary site and construction of a final repository has been awaiting government approval after gaining approval in lower courts. The government said more time is needed for such a crucial decision and the only way to secure operation of the reactors is to approve the intermediary site expansion until the rest of the application is resolved. The nuclear industry had been pressing the government to consider radioactive waste/used fuel management as a single issue including both Clab and the repository.

Nuclear waste management company Svensk Kärnbränslehantering (SKB) also criticised the government decision to rule separately on Clab and the repository. SKB's CEO Johan Dasht said: “We have a hard time understanding why the government does not make decisions about the entire final repository system. This is a major risk-taking that does not save electricity production but risks it. This means increased risks that the intermediate warehouse will be full before we get all permits in place.”

He added: “The intermediate storage does not stand on its own two feet but is part of a coherent system. There is now a great risk that the case will get stuck in the Land and Environmental Court, which is the next step in the trial. The government is also over-ruling Oskarshamn municipality, which opposed extended interim storage without a final repository decision. We have the greatest respect for the municipality's attitude.”

There is widespread support for a government decision on a coherent application for the final repository system. At the end of June, the Ministry of the Environment sent out a referral to have SKB's application for the final repository system divided, so that the issue of increased capacity at the intermediate storage Clab could be handled separately. More than 20 consultation responses were received with a clear majority opposing a division. 

SKB said its view that the government should promptly decide on the admissibility of the entire final repository application is shared by a number of weighty consultation bodies. In addition to SKB's owners Vattenfall, Uniper, Fortum and others, the Swedish Energy Agency, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, Sweden's Municipalities and Regions, the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, the Energy Companies and others also rejected a division of the application and advocated an urgent government decision on the whole system. 

The county administrative boards in Uppsala and Kalmar counties write, among other things, that "an examination of the interim storage as an individual case in this situation would entail significant problems and risks from a legal security perspective". The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise writes, among other things, that "there is no need for a break-up, decisions should be made urgently on the entire final repository issue" and "the proposal risks security of electricity supply in Sweden".

The Swedish Energy Agency, in its response to the consultation, “emphasises the importance of an overall decision being made as soon as possible in the near future". The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) states that “a starting point in the Environmental Code is that there must be an overall assessment of a business's total environmental impact. Furthermore, SSM sees that if the decisions concerning the Nuclear Fuel Repository, Clink and Clab are not kept together, it can lead to challenges in terms of societal acceptance and anchoring”.

The municipalities of Oskarshamn and Östhammar, which play an important role in SKB's application to build new facilities and expand storage in Clab, are very clear in opposing a division of the application and want an urgent decision on the whole. Sweden's municipalities and regions write in support of the municipalities 'view that "the municipalities' views [should] weigh heavily in the government's position regarding the continued handling of the matter".

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