From Colin Wales, NTW member.
Radioactive waste management
AARHUS CONVENTION AND NUCLEAR (ACN) ROUND TABLE ON RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT (RWM)
13-15 January 2021
The European Commission (DG ENER) and Nuclear Transparency Watch (NTW) organized an “Aarhus Convention and Nuclear” Roundtable that was held from January 13th to January 15th 2021. The objective was to gather concerned stakeholders by Radioactive Waste Management (operators, regulators and institutional representatives, experts and researchers, NGOs, civil society representatives) in order to discuss concrete implementation of the Aarhus Convention principles (public information and participation). More than 170 persons registered, from 24 countries and with very various backgrounds.
- Ms Nadja Zeleznik, chair of Nuclear Transparency Watch
- Mr Massimo Garribba, Deputy Director General, DG ENER
Session 1 – Implementation of the information and public participation provisions of the Radioactive Waste Directive (2011/70/Euratom)
- Implementation of the Radioactive Waste Directive in the EU: findings and recommendations of the second EC report to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, Mr Gianfranco Brunetti, Deputy Head of Unit DG ENER D.2
- Civil Society Joint Project: report on the implementation of the Waste Directive (as a third-party review), updated on the basis of the outcomes of the 2nd report of the Commission adopted on December 17th, 2019, Ms Gabriele Mraz, NTW and Ms Patricia Lorenz, Friends of the Earth
- View of a representative of the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), Mr Robert Harbers
- View of a representative of the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science, Mr Kristoffer Brix Bertelsen
- The BEPPER Report on Transparency in Radioactive Waste Management: Improving national RWM transparency in the EU by effective implementation of the Aarhus Convention in the context of Article 10 on Transparency in the Nuclear Waste Directive, Mr Johan Swahn, NTW/MKG
Session 2 – National feedbacks on recent public engagement processes along RWM
Germany Roundtable – update on RWM public engagement in Germany
- Mr Jochen Ahlswede, BASE
- Ms Astrid Goebel and Ms Dagmar Dehmer, BGE
- Mr Jo Leinen, Nationales Begleitgremium (NBG)
United Kingdom Roundtable – overview of recent developments on RWM siting procedures
- Mr Mike Brophy, Head of Stakeholder Engagement in siting team of RWM and representative of NDA
- Mr Colin Wales, Cumbria Trust
France Roundtable – 2019 public debate on the RWM national plan
- Mr Aurélien Louis, French Ministry of Sustainable Development
- Ms Delphine Pellegrini, IRSN
- Mr Jean-Claude Delalonde, ANCCLI
- Mr Ingvar Persson, legal expert for the Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste
- Mr Bengt Hedberg, Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM)
- Mr Johan Swahn, MKG
Session 3 – Recent developments in civil society access to expertise and research
- EC vision on the question of transparency in the field of research, Mr Roberto Passalacqua, DG RTD D.4 “This communication has not been endorsed by the European Commission DG RTD. However the summary of the slides is made available here.”
- Feedback from innovative processes in interaction with Civil Society in MODERN 2020, Ms Anne Bergmans, University of Antwerp
- The SITEX European network of experts on RWM (involving TSOs, Regulators and Civil Society Experts), Mr Valéry Detilleux, Bel V
- Feedback from innovative processes in interaction with Civil Society in SITEX-II and JOPRAD, Mr Gilles Heriard-Dubreuil, Mutadis
- The EURAD platform and corresponding processes of Interaction with Civil Society, Ms Louise Théodon, ANDRA, EURAD coordinator
- The ENTRIA Research project in Germany combining technical and social aspects of Radioactive Waste Management, Mr Klaus-Jurgen Röhlig, TU Clausthal
>> see the summary of discussion for Session 3 <<
Final Round Table – Improving existing arrangements on information and public participation in the field of RWM in Europe: the way forward
- Mr Jan Haverkamp, NTW
- Mr Jonas Ebbesson, Chair of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC)
- Ms Zuzana Petrovičová, Head of Unit DG ENER D.2 “Nuclear energy, nuclear waste and decommissioning”
- Ms Nina Cromnier, Head of the Swedish Regulatory Authority and ENSREG member
- Mr Jakop Dalunde, MEP (Greens)
- Mr Valéry Detilleux, SITEX network
- Ms Astrid Goebel, IGD-TP
>> see the summary of discussion for the Final Round Table <<
- Ms Zuzana Petrovičová, Head of Unit DG ENER.D.2 “Nuclear energy, nuclear waste and decommissioning”
- Ms Nadja Zeleznik, chair of Nuclear Transparency Watch
Is radioactive waste manageable?
As uncomfortable as it is to think about this question, it is one that demands political attention, public engagement and legitimate empirical responses. Despite widespread unsubstantiated claims, there are no clearly sustainable or responsible solutions for storing the radioactive waste our societies produce. It is an empirical matter, but a political mine field; as a result, decision-making processes in this area are murky and often impenetrable for the affected populations.
“The Black Boxes of Nuclear Waste Strategy” considers the problems associated with nuclear waste management strategies: erratic and substandard implementation of international safety instruments, inconsistent inventory reporting, and an absence of universal definitional criteria. It draws much of its information from the first World Nuclear Waste Report 2019 – Focus Europe, compiled by a diverse group of independent experts and published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The report identifies issues of gross mismanagement and fiscal irresponsibility, and reviews a dizzying assortment of regulatory and security practices in the industry.
Who has a say, and how?
The author claims that the need for a more democratic management of energy systems is incontrovertible, but argues that civil society groups are only as powerful as their resources and their ability to access and process relevant information; the transparency of energy policy decisions will be crucial to public acceptance of waste management models. The author concludes that a strategic political vision is necessary to address operational priorities and identify funding mechanisms to meet the challenge.
Author of the article: Christiana Maria Mauro is a data protection and transparency advocate based in Budapest. She has contributed to public interest initiatives at the European level, focusing on civil liberties and EU governance. She has a background in the social sciences, humanities and law. Christiana has been working in partnership with Nuclear Transparency Watch since 2016.
Gabriele Mraz, December 2019
In the Joint Project, European NGOs and research institutions cooperate since 2003 on safe and sustainable energy issues with a focus on nuclear policies in Central and Eastern Europe. One of our topics is nuclear waste – an unsolved and dangerous problem which will stay with us for a minimum of one million years. For more information see http://www.joint-project.org/.
In 2011 the “Council Directive 2011/70/Euratom establishing a Community framework for the responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste” introduced an EU-wide regulation to solve the nuclear waste problem. Since the very first steps, the Joint Project is keeping a close watch on the implementation of this Nuclear Waste Directive. We continuously monitor the implementation on national and EU level and participate in Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA). We also organized events for the interested public and a discussion with European Commission representatives.
In our regularly updated assessment report (LINK) we inform not only on the status of implementation of the Nuclear Waste Directive, but also on problems with transparency, on limits of public participation and on many other problems that became obvious during the first years of implementation.
France is developing its PNGMDR – one of these wonderful long French acronyms, standing for “Plan National de Gestion des Matières et Déchets Radioactifs” or National Plan for the Management of Radioactive Materials and Wastes.
On 17 April 2019, at 7 in the evening, a nation-wide public debate on this plan was kicked off in the Maison de la Mutualité in Paris. This was the first meeting of six months of debates touring around the country. It is organised by the National Commission for Public Debate (CNDP) and the Special Committee (CPDP), state appointed bodies in charge of this public participation marathon. After Paris, the Special Committee will organize general public meetings in four major regional cities (Lille, Rennes, Bordeaux and Strasbourg), plus another sixteen more specialised debates in all corners of the country.
The meetings include the use of different formats to gather and process citizens’ viewpoints, including mirror groups and special succession workshops (ateliers de la relève) that deal with the question how to hand over the challenge of radioactive waste to the next generations.
During different phases of the debate, the commission will make proposals how to tackle certain of the wide spectrum of topics relating to the management of the different categories of radioactive materials and waste. Some debates have to give input on finding possible management options for temporary storage or final disposal. Others are related to the fuel cycle (used fuel treatment: once-through reprocessing and multi-reprocessing, distinction between useable materials and waste). Again, others will deal with ethical issues, safety and security of installations, but also questions relating to the health of potentially impacted populations and workers, to the protection of the environment. Or they deal with economy, transport of radioactive material, and governance.
To complete the entire cycle of input, the commission will organize events in the overseas departments and in some cities of France in the form of “mobile debates”, to also involve citizens that otherwise would not have a chance.
A special part of the debates are the so-called “controversy workshops”. These use a “clarification of controversies” approach, aiming to provide the non-specialist public with high quality technical information that enables better understanding of the differences in arguments put forward by experts or institutional bodies on issues relating to the proposed plans. Next to main PNGMDR debates organiser CPDP, also other institutions, companies and associations are involved, like the radioactive waste authority Andra, the nuclear technical support institute IRSN, the nuclear utility EDF, radioactive fuel producer Orano, the research institute CEA, but also citizens think tanks WiseParis and Global Chance, the environmental organisation France Nature Environment (FNE), en the local information committee of Cruas.
More information on the debates can be found on the French language website https://pngmdr.debatpublic.fr
Contact : email@example.com – ANCCLI
Article by Jan Haverkamp, 05 March 2019
On 30 January, the German radioactive waste licensing authority BfE held a workshop in Berlin with a range of stakeholders to discuss its research strategy. NTW member Brigitte Artmann and several other German citizens from her region invited NTW vice-chair Jan Haverkamp (who works for the organisations WISE and Greenpeace) as external expert to participate. Here are some impressions and observations.
The workshop is part of a round of stakeholder input into BfE’s research strategy. The other part consisted of an on-line tool for different organisations and citizens to give input on a (German language) strategy paper and research agenda that BfE as new authority responsible for licensing of radioactive waste facilities prepared.
Different from the European radioactive waste sector’s efforts to coordinate and strategise research in radioactive waste management in the European platform IGD-TP, BfE tries to be fully inclusive in its stakeholder approach and not bind participants to certain pre-defined visions. Having said that, the political process in Germany is still severely affected by the complete failures of the attempts to establish a deep geological disposal facility for high-level waste in Gorleben, Niedersachsen, and the completely inadequate low- and mid-level underground waste deposits in Asse II and Morsleben. Because of this history, BfE still has to focus on deep geological disposal of high-level waste as the preferred technical pathway – a political choice that made many civil society organisations, including groups around Gorleben and Greenpeace, to distance themselves from the process.
One of the central questions discussed was whether a licensing authority itself should be directly involved in research at all – either by establishing its own laboratories or by financing research. Crucial is that the licensing authority’s independence needs to be assured. Active participation in or even only ownership of research activities could lead to loyalty-bias, i.e. a preference for the outcome of its own over other independent research.
NTW is of the opinion that independence and full transparency should have priority and illustrated the dilemma with the long time denial of the issue of copper-corrosion in the Swedish nuclear waste programme. Here, the regulatory agency SSM relied mainly on research from the waste programme implementer SKB, which resulted in serious concerns of corporate capture. It is clear that BfE should not be depending only on input from the for implementation responsible federal company for final disposal BGE.
In a country like France, the licensing authority ASN can rely on its own independent technical support organisation (TSO) IRSN to carry out needed research. However, Germany does not have an independent technical support organisation for its different nuclear regulatory and licensing authorities. Supporting research is often carried out by the research institutions GRS and the TÜV’s, which also work for industry and implementers and therefore do not consider themselves independent like IRSN.
BfE would be well advised to diversify its knowledge input over a wide spectrum of independent research organisations, institutions and academia, and create a financing mechanism to facilitate that. It could also consider to establish for part of its needs its own, but organisationally separate, dedicated TSO. In all cases, it should assure a high level of transparency and public scrutiny.
Concerning transparency, NTW noted that in the welcoming speech the openness to the public was defined as transparency in information provision and the increase of trust. Both indicate a focus on one-directional information flows from the authority to the public. That BfE does see the need for a broader approach became clear during the workshop, where citizens expertise was explicitly included in the areas of importance. It was acknowledged that trust never can be one of the pre-set goals, but is to be earned in fully transparent and participative processes.
The need for and inclusion of social sciences is another issue of concern. Research is still mainly seen as natural science research, whereas there needs to be also sufficient clarity about the broader social, economic, and indeed ethical and legal implications during the process of technology- and site-choice. Sufficient attention has to be given to the inclusion of citizens expertise in the development of technical answers. One of the open questions remaining is, how legally prescribed formal public participation procedures under SEAs (strategic environmental assessments) and EIAs (environmental impact assessments) will be embedded in the wider public participation and consultation processes, including issues like access to justice in the case of disagreements. NTW advised BfE to create explicit space for this kind of social, economic, philosophical and legal research.
The German government and the radioactive waste commission with cross-political representation from the German Parliament opted for deep geological disposal as preferred technology, while keeping the choice for host-rock, be it clay, salt rock or granite, fully open. This does not, however, remove the potential need for a fall-back option or Plan B in case deep geological disposal technologies will not be able to achieve a sufficient safety case. Technical problems in Sweden, Finland, France, Belgium and Switzerland do not call for optimism. Long term radioactive waste management remains an extremely complex and risk-ridden exercise. Any research strategy needs to know what to do with input, views and questions concerning potential alternatives. And also include and secure sufficient speed in developing alternatives, so that in case deep geological disposal will not deliver on its hoped-for success, the problem of radioactive waste will not be kicked three generations further down the road.
The time-line of the research strategy of BfE is based on the legally prescribed 2031 deadline for the choice of two potential sites for deep geological disposal. This is to be followed by in-depth comparative research into potential final disposal options on both sites, with a final choice for one site in 2050, and following implementation. Given the current lack of clarity of BfE’s role in research and the complexity of the issues around deep geological disposal, the deadline of 2031 is extremely tight, and all stakeholders – BfE, BGE, academia, but also civil society, will have to remain alert that this time pressure will not lead to cutting corners – not only on issues related to risk, but also in transparency and public participation.
BfE is responsible for licensing final disposal options, but also for ongoing and new temporary storage facilities of radioactive waste. Oda Becker, an independent expert representing the German Friends of the Earth member BUND during the workshop, drew attention to the fact that BfE has so far not given sufficient attention to the findings of the Court of Schleswig that found that temporary storage at the Brunsbüttel nuclear power station was not sufficiently protected against external attacks. She pointed out that there is a great need for more research around the risks and risk reduction of these temporary storage facilities that is not reflected in the current strategy.
It became clear that with the reset button being pushed on the German nuclear waste policy development, the German nuclear phase-out is an important, but only first step in a very long road towards a sufficiently acceptable solution for the legacy of nuclear power. Whether this development will receive support or face opposition will for a large degree depend on a high level of transparency.
Nuclear Transparency Watch together with the German office of Heinrich Böll Stiftung and the Greens/EFA organised an event in Berlin on 01-02/10, in the premisses of Heinrich Boll Stiftung.
Participants will discuss how Europe can find a sustainable solution to nuclear waste. The deep geological disposal of radioactive waste in underground containers is being pursued as an affordable and viable solution. For this method, one needs to identify a site and a safe containment technology, and achieve broad public acceptance – and none of these steps are easy.
In the last years there have been dynamic developments on nuclear waste disposal in Germany, France, and Sweden. In Germany, public opposition against disposal in Gorleben has resulted in a special commission tasked with finding a proper site. In France, the government has unilaterally opted for disposal in Bure, but is facing tough public resistance as well numerous technical issues. In Sweden, a broadly accepted site and storage concept was stopped last February in the Environmental Court due to its risky technological containment solution.
A special emphasis will be put on the recent policy developments in Sweden, Germany and France, but the workshop will also allow time to discuss nuclear waste concerns in other European countries.
The discussion will be based upon inputs by
- Rebecca Harms (Member of the European Parliament for the German Greens/EFA),
- Professor Andrew Blowers (expert on nuclear legacies and the role of citizens, UK), (1)
- Johan Swahn (activist from the Office for Nuclear Waste Review, Sweden),
- Sylvia Kotting-Uhl (Member of German Parliament for Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and of the German radioactive waste commission),
- Delphine Pellegrini (French Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety Institute) and
- Jan Haverkamp (Nuclear Transparency Watch Europe).
The international conference NEC 2018 “Nuclear waste: Unwanted legacy of nuclear power” was organised by Friends of the Earth CZ and Calla and took place in Prague on Wednesday 11/04/2018. The objective was to discuss, in the presence of international and Czech experts, the options of finding a solution to the nuclear waste problem without restricting citizens’ rights to defend their interests and those of future generations.
NEC 2018 was loaded with information on management of spent nuclear waste and the problems of final disposal. 116 participants from 11 countries were then able to compare the new developments in the Germany, Sweden and other countries with the situation in the Czech Republic. The restart of the German repository project was described as was the background to the decision of the Swedish Environmental Court to say no to the Swedisk plans for a repository for spent nuclear fuel.
The final disposal of spent fuel is also a very hot topic in the Czech Republic, as the decision on the selection of four most suitable sites for a repository out of the nine potential ones should be made this year. Brief presentations by participants from Eastern Europe completed the information at the end of the conference. Browse through the presentation, or you can contact the speakers. You can get a feel of the conference atmosphere in the photogallery.
Many members of Nuclear Transparency Watch were there as speakers: Jan Haverkamp (energy and nuclear energy expert, Netherlands) Johan Swahn (director of MKG, Sweden), and Gabriele Mraz (Inrag, Austria), and contributed to the debate from the audience : Marcin Harembski (NGO Common Earth, Poland), Andrey Ozharovsky, Russian Nuclear Energy Expert.
The Swedish Environmental Court says no to the power industry’s Nuclear Waste Company SKB’s license application for a final repository for spent nuclear fuel in Forsmark, Sweden. This is a huge triumph for safety and environment – and for the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (MKG), the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), and critical scientists who have been presenting risks of the malfunction of the selected method. Now it is up to the Swedish government to make the final decision.
“This is a victory for us and for the scientists that have had doubts about copper as a canister material. From now on, the work on evaluating safer disposal solutions will continue. The decision that will be made concerns waste that will be hazardous for thousands of years. Several independent researchers have criticized both the applied method and the selected site. There is a solid documentation as base for the Environmental Court’s decision. It is hard to believe the Swedish Government’s conclusions will be any different from that of the Court’s” says Johan Swahn, Director at MKG and Chair of NTW Radioactive Waste Management Working Group.
This article is an extract of the full article of MKG.
Article by Johan Swahn published on 12/12/2017 on the on-going licensing process in the Swedish Environnemental Court for the proposed final repository at the Forsmark NPP.
Translation into English of the Swedish Environmental Court’s opinion on the final repository for spent nuclear fuel- as well as some comments on the decision and the further process.
Summary of the Court Statement (in swedish)
by Johan Swahn, director of MKG and member of the Management Board of NTW
On January 23rd, 2018, the Swedish Land and Environmental Court plans to give its opinion to the government on whether to allow the final repository for spent nuclear fuel in Forsmark. This is an important, but not the last, decision in the review of the license application that was submitted by the nuclear waste company SKB (Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co) in 2011. The ruling will come after 20 days of competent and eventful deliberations in the main meeting of the court during 5 weeks from the beginning of September until the end of October. The main meeting of the court, this is the official translation of the Swedish word “Huvudförhandling”, is the final, open and very democratic deliberation that takes place before the court takes a decision on a license application, and where all parties summarise their views legally and on issues. Anyone can attend and speak their view.
The decision of the court, that has been postponed from the original plan of December 20th due to the huge volume of information that the court has to take into due account, will be very important for the future of the repository. The court has many difficult issues to manage as it writes its opinion and it remains a clearly open question whether it will say yes or no to the spent fuel repository.
The planned repository for the final estimated 11 000 tons of Swedish high level radioactive waste in the form of spent nuclear fuel is to be constructed 120 km north of Stockholm on the Baltic coast, immediately South of the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Östhammar Community. A copper canister encapsulation plant is to be constructed at the present intermediate storage facility for spent nuclear fuel, Clab, at the Oskarshamn nuclear power plant on the Southeast coast. The application for a license for the repository according to the Environmental Act was submitted to the court in March 2011 after a long consultation process from 2003-2010 and the choice of Forsmark for the site in 2009.
The license application to the environmental court is being reviewed in parallel with a similar application to the Swedish regulator SSM (Swedish Radiation Safety Authority) according to the Nuclear Activities Act. From 2011 until the end of 2015 SSM has been asking SKB for additional information to make the application complete. SSM will give its opinion on the license to the government before or after the time of the court’s opinion. The government will use the two opinions to make its own decision whether to allow the repository or not.
During the main meeting of the court that started on September 5thand was concluded on October 26th there were a number of issues that were under deliberation. The most important one was to what degree uncertainties regarding the long-term safety of the repository can remain after the court opinion and the government decision. This issue became especially important, as there was a highly competent input at the hearings by researchers from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm that claimed that the integrity of the copper canister could be questioned. They claimed that many of the copper canisters encapsulating the spent fuel, and therefore vital for the long-term safety case, could start to leak before a thousand years have passed. The nuclear waste company SKB claims that only one canister will start to leak in a million years. But if a few hundred of the total six thousand copper canisters start leaking relatively soon, the dose limits of the regulator SSM (Swedish Radiation Safety Authority) will be exceeded and the repository should not be given a license.
There were also other issues at stake during the main hearing; discussions of whether a deep borehole repository would be safer; whether the site is suitable due to geological and other issues; the very high ecological values at the Forsmark site; and many other issues were covered. And there was also, most importantly, an intense legal discussion regarding the implementation of the Environmental Act that governs the work and decisions of the environmental court and the connections with the implementation of the Nuclear Activities Act, which governs the decision-making of the regulator SSM.
To understand the discussion a little background is needed. The Swedish Environmental Act dates from the late 1990s and requires that all activities that can harm the environment must have a license. The environmental court rules on and gives conditions for the license. The environmental courts have been working for over 25 years so by this time precedents exists for many types of activities. The Swedish Nuclear Activities Act is from 1983 and all nuclear activities also must have a license according to this law. This means that a final repository for spent fuel has to have a license according to both legislations. In both cases the repository has also to be approved by the government. According to the Environmental Act this is true only for a small list of activities that for instance also includes major infrastructure projects. But this means that at this stage in the decision-making process the court and the regulator SSM will only give their opinions to the government. Licenses are issued afterwards if the government says gives its approval.
The parallel decision-making processes could be problematic if the court and the regulator SSM did not have the same basis for license review. In order for this to be the case the Nuclear Activities Act was immediately changed to have Chapter 2 of the Environmental Act with the “General rules of consideration” incorporated to be used for decisions. In addition when the new legal framework was set up it was foreseen that the decision-making according to the two legislations was to be parallel and coordinated.
The “General rules of consideration” of the Environmental Act are very important for environmental decision-making and praxis has been established what has to be shown, how to consider the precautionary principle and how to define and evaluate the use of best possible technology and site. In its evaluation of the license application according to the Nuclear Activities Act the regulator SSM is to use the same evaluation criteria.
At the main hearing of the court it became evident that something was amiss regarding SSM’s decision-making in relation to the Environmental Act. SSM had already in June 2015 told the court that the application was complete with regards to the Environmental Act. One year later SSM told the court that it was plausible that it could be shown that the repository would have a sufficient radiation safety in the long term. Some issues remained, amongst them issues regarding the integrity of the copper canister, but these could be resolved in the step-wise decision-making that SSM foresaw after the government’s decision. SSM will give a license for construction first and then later a license for trial operation and finally for operation.
During the main hearing the environmental court was indirectly very critical of SSM by asking the regulator a number of questions. This started already on the third day of the proceedings and the questions from the court grew in number and complexity throughout the main meeting. The court wanted to know how SSM saw its role in the decision-making according to the Environmental Act. The court wanted to know why SSM stated that it was “plausible to show” only and not that “it is shown” as is required according to the “General rules of consideration”. Also it became apparent that the definition of best available technology that SSM was using is less strict than that used by the environmental courts.
It would appear as though the court will have a problem with the actions of the regulator when deciding what to say to the government. It appears as though SSM has not put in enough effort to ensure they have the information they need to say that it is shown that the repository is safe. Instead SSM wants the court to let it deal with issues later. But the court cannot deal with issues later and would expect the SSM to follow its own legislation. Towards the end of the main meeting SSM boldly stated that the environmental court should not deal with issues where it had stated that it is “plausible to show”. The court can do this. It is not legally obliged to take on issues that other authorities can handle, i.e., the radiation safety issues that SSM examines. In the case of a spent fuel repository the long-term radiation safety is of course a central environmental issue, and it can be questioned if the court should follow the wishes of SSM, and the nuclear waste company SKB, to stay away from radiation safety issues. But, legally it is up to the court to decide.
If the court were to leave the radiation safety issues to SSM for the government’s decision and for the future decision-making process, it would have to trust the integrity and independence of the regulator. During the main hearing the court SSM in its various statements agreed entirely and without any reservations with what the nuclear waste company SKB was stating regarding long-term safety, as well as choice of site and method. This despite the on-going controversies in the room. Towards the end of the proceedings leaked documents from SSM were published in Swedish media showing that there was no consensus within the regulator about going ahead and saying that long term safety was plausible. Instead, it was revealed that several of SSM’s experts, including the materials and corrosion expert, were opposed to giving the go-ahead. This behaviour of SSM has generally weakened the trust of the regulator, but to what extent it has influenced the court remains to be seen.
The court will give its opinion to the government on January 23rd. SSM has said it will give its opinion to the government around the new year. The government then has to ask the two communities involved in the project, Östhammar and Oskarshamn if they approve or not. Östhammar community is planning a referendum on the issue for March 4th. The government will prepare for a decision during the spring but it is uncertain whether a decision will be taken before the next elections in September. After the elections it will take time to form a new government, so a likely timeframe for a government decision on the spent fuel repository is in the spring of 2019.
If the government says yes, there is still a long legal procedure ahead until the licenses to start construction will be ready. The government’s decision according to the Environmental Act can be appealed. The court has then to decide on the license and conditions, likely with a new hearing beforehand, and the court’s decision can be appealed. The government’s decision according to the Nuclear Activities Act can be appealed. SSM has to review a new safety analysis report before deciding to give a license to start construction.
Finally, it will take at least seven years to build the repository and the regulator has to give licenses both for a trial operation and a full operation. If everything goes as the nuclear waste company SKB hopes there could be an operational Swedish repository for spent nuclear fuel in the mid-2030s.
If the environmental court says no on January 23rd the repository may still get a go-ahead from the government. If Östhammar community says yes despite a no from the court the Government can overrule the court, but it cannot contradict the Environmental Act doing it. If Östhammar community says no, the veto of the community is not absolute. The government under certain conditions can override the veto. However, the nuclear waste company SKB has said it will not go ahead with the repository against the will of Östhammar community.
It is not an understatement to say that what the court says on January 23rd, 2017, will be of utmost importance for the future of the Swedish nuclear industry’s plans for disposal of spent nuclear fuel.