Siting and licensing process
In Sweden the efforts to find a suitable and acceptable location for radioactive waste started already in the mid-1970s, almost 50 years ago.
It is SKB International’s goal to support our radioactive waste management sister organisations and countries to manage the process to find a site for their radioactive waste. However, it must be acknowledged that finding a suitable geological formation, with the possibility to establish well functional infrastructure and with the local community acceptance does take time, often plenty of time.
SKB experienced political and local community issues that has been a well-earned lesson during the long process until SKB in 2008 finally decided which site should be the one to be used in the licence application (submitted to the government in 2011). The experiences SKB has collected can be seen as a methodology, a methodology that now will be part of an international recommendation and support document from the IAEA.
SKB used a stepwise process starting with geological surveys, literature studies together with early pre-siting studies, for increased knowledge on the bedrock conditions of importance for long-term safety of a repository. This was done on the national scale.
In our RD&D programme 1992, SKB presented and gained governmental support for a siting process based on several feasibility studies to be executed, and siting criteria were also communicated. The iteration with the governing authorities was initiated and during this time it was as an example noted that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) is of great importance. This can also be seen as the start of the licensing process in Sweden.
Siting factors that was included in the feasibility studies were:
Siting factors of importance for the long-term safety of the repository
Siting factors of importance for the construction, performance and safe operation of the repository and its transportation system
- Land and environment
Siting factors of importance for land use and environmental impact
- Societal aspects
Siting factors connected to societal considerations and community impact
In the feasibility study general conditions of the bedrock in Sweden were investigated, with special focus on conditions to be avoided for a repository, examples of these conditions are:
- Highly heterogeneous and difficult-to-interpret bedrock conditions
- Rock types of interest for mineral extraction or other exploitation
- Known major deformation zones and neotectonic faults
- Pronounced discharge areas for groundwater
- Abnormal groundwater chemistry
After the feasibility studies, the site investigation phase followed and it was agreed between government and implementer that such studies should be done for at least two specific sites. The site investigations involved vast geological investigations including;
- Geological surface mapping,
- geophysical surveys,
- core mapping,
- geophysical logging,
- hydraulic tests,
- groundwater sampling,
- stress measurements etc.
Based on the site investigations a single and very specific site was selected and communicated.
Using data (data management is crucial) from the site investigation and additional modelling and some new data sets, the site descriptive model (SDM) was refined and used in the safety assessment for the post-closure safety. The findings, complying with the regulations, were published as part of the licence application for the final repository in 2011.
The licencing application process in Sweden has been time-consuming and SKB has gained experience in the legal processes, both towards the nuclear regulatory authority and the environmental court. Fulfilling several sets of regulations is a challenge but SKB was successful and 11 years after the original application was submitted, SKB received governmental approval for the KBS-3 final repository system for spent nuclear fuel (2022-01-27).
SKB is responsible for the entire back-end of radioactive waste management in Sweden. This includes not only the spent nuclear fuel, but all radioactive waste. In Sweden SKB operates a final repository for short-lived radioactive waste since 1988. This repository needs to be extended and a licence application, including a safety assessment for the post-closure safety, has been submitted and also received approval by the government (Dec. 2021).
The third and last final repository needed in Sweden’s nuclear waste management programme will take care of the long-lived radioactive waste. This repository has not yet been located or designed in detail. However, an important first iteration has been made: a proposed design, located in a generic bedrock has been evaluated, documented and communicated. The process has been started and experiences from earlier site selection and licensing application are greatly incorporated in the process to move the project forward.
SKB International has the unique possibility to support radioactive waste organisations globally to also make use of the experience and valuable knowledge from finished and ongoing processes towards a site selection and a licensing application.