Nuclear Waste

Sweden’s nuclear waste storage problem may provoke national power crisis

The government’s failure to back plans for the building of a new storage site for high-level radioactive waste could result in the shutting down of nuclear plants in as little as three years.

Sweden finds itself in a bind as its intermediate spent fuel storage site is expected to reach full capacity volume by 2024.

An application for the building of what would be the country’s first nuclear fuel repository was initially submitted by radioactive waste management company Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB (SKB) as far back as March 2011.

In October 2021, the company stated that it had received the necessary approval from the necessary courts as well as that of the individual municipality (Östhammar) where the repository would be built.

Yet the Swedish government continues to stall.

Having announced a public consultation round on the matter, the authorities decided to make plans for the expansion of the existing interim nuclear waste storage site, wanting to consider the repository building application as a separate instance.

As the judiciary process lengthens and the permit for the country’s interim storage solution is set to run out, the country is increasingly at risk of experiencing a national electricity crisis. Nuclear operator Vattenfall AB has warned that they may have to shut down plants in just about three years. The delayed decision-making process has been criticised by both the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority as well as the Swedish Energy Agency.

The government’s inaction does not only handicap 30% of the country’s electricity generation but also threatens to derail Sweden’s net zero carbon emissions goals, objectives to be achieved by 2045.  

According to Torbjorn Walborg, the head of generation at Vatenfall, the replacement of nuclear output at such short notice is not feasible, especially given the demand in power.

Nuclear storage is a contentious issue in many European countries. Just recently, Germany came under the spotlight over the return of processed high-level nuclear waste from France. The return and transport are a matter of consequence in so far as Germany does not have a final storage solution set in place for radioactive waste. Earlier this year, Japan shocked the international community over its plans to dump 1 million cubic metres of treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.