Who is responsible for nuclear waste?

The financing system for nuclear waste is designed to ensure that it is the nuclear power industry that shall finance the costs of decommissioning and final disposal. The Debt Office calculates the amount of the financial resources that should be allocated to ensure this.

Nuclear power today

Of the twelve nuclear power reactors that have been commissioned since the beginning of the 1970s, both reactors at the Barsebäck nuclear power plant have been closed. The Ringhals nuclear power plant has also decided to close two of its four reactors – one in 2019 and the other in 2020. Thus, only six of the twelve reactors will remain in operation after 2020: one reactor at the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant, two at the Ringhals nuclear power plant and three at the Forsmark nuclear power plant.

How is nuclear waste managed?

The Swedish strategy for spent nuclear fuel consists of direct disposal. This requires intermediate storage of the spent fuel pending completion of a final repository. The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) – a company jointly owned by the nuclear power companies –  enabled intermediate storage of this kind at the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant, which came into use in 1985. The intermediate storage was given the name Clab (an abbreviation of the Swedish for central warehouse for used fuel).

A final repository for low and medium-level waste (SFR) was also built by SKB at the Forsmark nuclear power plant outside Östhammar, and this was commissioned in 1988. SFR is located about 50 metres below the bed of the Baltic Sea.

Final disposal of nuclear waste

In order to find a suitable place for a final repository for spent nuclear fuel, SKB started feasibility studies at several locations in the country. A research laboratory, called the Äspö Laboratory, was built in 1995 outside Oskarshamn and is a full-scale facility at a depth of 500 metres for studying how a final repository could be designed. In Oskarshamn, the so-called capsule laboratory was also built in 1998, where a capsule is designed to form the container into which the spent nuclear fuel shall be placed for final disposal. Physical site examinations including test drilling began in 2002 and were completed in 2007. In 2009, SKB advised that Forsmark in the municipality of Östhammar had been chosen as the site of the final repository. An application was submitted to the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority and to the Land and Environment Court in March 2011. In February 2018, the matter was handed over to the Government.

Other repositories are the landfill sites with very low-level radioactive waste that are located in the nuclear power plants’ own areas (except at Barsebäck) and at the facilities in Studsvik outside Nyköping. In addition, a final repository is planned for long-lived waste (SFL). This is in order to take care of high-level waste that is not spent nuclear fuel but which arises from the replacement of equipment or in connection with the dismantling and demolition of nuclear reactors, such as control rods and reactor components. There are not yet any detailed plans for this repository, but it is expected to be operational at the earliest by 2045.

The producers of nuclear waste hold the responsibility

It is the responsibility of the nuclear industry to take care of the waste they have produced. This was established by the Act on Nuclear Activities (1984:3). The task of the Debt Office is to ensure that the nuclear power industry can finance the management and disposal of nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel, and the decommissioning and demolition of the plants. We also ensure that the nuclear power industry can finance the research needed to enable this. Ultimately, the future taxpayer shall be protected.