A week on from the Environmental Court’s ruling, and it would seem nobody in Sweden is any the wiser about what happens next. The general view seems to be that this is a hiccup, and everything will eventually continue as planned.
But don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, and at least not until after this autumn’s national elections in Sweden.
Anders Lillienau, who chaired the Court’s Hearings, is reported as saying that while they had significant concerns about the safety of the copper canisters, the Court did not otherwise see any barriers to the safety of the repository. The Court has asked SKB, the organisation responsible for the repository, to provide further information on copper canisters to address their concerns. It is understood that SKB are preparing such information, and reportedly told a community meeting in Östhammar earlier this week that they intend to provide that information later this year.
Anders Lillenau has also made clear the ball is now in the Government’s court: “In the end, it is still the case that the Government may make the overall assessment whether or not this will be allowed.”
A Swedish Government spokesman, Magnus Blücher, explained that this was a complex issue and it was too soon to say what the Government might do, or when.
Back in Östhammar, the local referendum planned for 4 March has been postponed. The referendum was advisory, and any final decision on agreeing to host the repository has to be taken by the local council. A spokesman for Östhammar Municipality says that it is too soon to know when the referendum and council vote will now take place.
Local resident Åsa Lindstrand chairs a resident’s group opposed to the repository. She told the local newspaper that she was pleased but surprised by the Court’s decision, but feels little will change:
“Actually, nobody else in Sweden wants this nuclear fuel repository, so the rest of Sweden would probably be lucky if someone takes it. The municipality is so marinated by SKB that it is not easy to say ‘no’. For us who live here, it’s more about noise and traffic than about the copper capsules, it’s happening before they get there at all.”
Her sense of pyrhhic victory is shared by environmentalist Johan Swahn, who added, “but only if the government stays passive and the copper canister issues raised by the Court become a matter solely for SKB.” His organisation, MKG, has raised concerns about the long-term safety of copper canisters over many years. While delighted that the Court accepted the case presented by leading corrosion scientists, he now wants the Swedish Government to guarantee an open scientific re-evaluation of the issues relating to copper canister corrosion.
The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) have their own views. They also submitted an opinion to the government, alongside the Land and Environmental Court. While the Court considered SKB’s application could not be supported on its current basis, SSM believes that the nuclear fuel company has shown long-term safety requirements can be met by a step-by-step test under the Nuclear Technology Act. SSM is proposing that the Government decide on several conditions, including that SKB may begin construction of the plant only after SSM has tested and approved a preliminary safety report.
With elections pending, it seems likely that the programme has been shoved back a year. Given the glacial pace of every national geological disposal programme, one more year of waiting after three decades of debate and analysis may not in the end make much of a difference to the Swedish programme.