In the past week, both the Swedish and the French GDF programmes have passed important regulatory hurdles, allowing them to continue following Finland on the road to construction.
Yesterday in Sweden, the country’s Nuclear Regulator, SSM (which assesses nuclear safety and radiation risks), announced that the safety plans met legal requirements, saying:
“The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority assess that SKB has the potential to ensure the safe management and final disposal of spent nuclear fuel so that human health and the environment are protected against the harmful effects of radiation.”
On the same day, the Swedish Land and Environment Court (which assesses compliance with the country’s Environmental Code), agreed that the plans were generally robust, but wanted further work done on a long-term safety issue related to corrosion in copper canisters.
The final decision to proceed will be taken by the Swedish Government. Their decision is expected in 2019. The Government will take the regulators’ recommendations into account, alongside the opinions of the affected local communities. These communities retain the right of withdrawal. Advisory local referendum are anticipated in early March, with a formal decision by the local municipality expected by the end of March.
French regulators made a similar announcement last week on the safety plans for the French facility. Nuclear Regulator ASN said the project “as a whole” had reached a “satisfactory technical maturity”. But they sought further investigation on a range of issues, particularly related to fire safety and the storage of packages containing bituminous waste.
GDFWatch welcomes the cautious, if slow, process for examining GDF plans in great detail. The Regulators, in expressing how impressed they were with the level of detail provided, also made clear that permits and approvals will be required before every stage of construction and operation of the facility. The Swedish Land and Environment Court particularly noted that by the time the facility was due for closure (at some point in the 22nd Century), scientific knowledge will have evolved and that final approval for closure could only be made on the state of knowledge at that time. Regulators appear to accept that timescales are such that risk can only be assessed on current scientific knowledge, but that risk assessment needs to be kept under regular review throughout the lifetime of any GDF. For the moment Regulators seem satisfied risks are being managed effectively and are content to approve, with caveats. Quite rightly, they reserve the right to withhold any future regulatory approvals.
NB: A Google Translation into English of the Swedish Court’s Judgment can be found by clicking on the link. Warning: it is a machine translation, so it reads awkwardly in English, but provides some understanding of the issues as they were weighed and considered by the Environmental Court. We await an official and ‘approved’ English translation.