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Sweden approves first repository for nuclear waste

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Half a century ago, the municipality of Östhammar was discussed as a repository for nuclear waste – the Swedish government has now approved the construction. However, an environmental court must confirm the decision.

By Sofie Donges, ARD Studio Stockholm

Green light for a repository – after almost 50 years. It’s been so long since Östhammar municipality was discussed as a possible location for the first time. Now the Swedish Environment Minister Annika Strandhäll announced that the construction has been approved by the government: “This solution for the repository has been examined for a long time, thoroughly examined and well prepared. To quote Abraham Lincoln: You cannot avoid tomorrow’s responsibility by they are avoided today.”

In the end, however, it was probably not just a sense of responsibility – but also the pressure from the opposition that demanded a decision. If not, she had threatened a vote of no confidence in the minority government’s Social Democratic minister.

Not much persuasion needed

Two years ago, the local council in Östhammar had already approved the repository, by majority. Here – two hours north of Stockholm – it didn’t take that much convincing, according to political scientist Urban Strandberg from the University of Gothenburg.

When looking for a location in the 1970s, the operator first concentrated on ideal ground conditions – with the result that there was a lot of resistance. “Then the nuclear industry changed its strategy and looked for a place where residents and politicians are more open-minded. And where the ground conditions are not perfect, but okay.”

The Forsmark nuclear power plant is also in Östhammar, many people work here and nuclear energy is part of everyday life. If an environmental court confirms the government’s decision and environmentalists sue unsuccessfully, the final repository is to be built here. It will then take about ten years before the first radioactive waste can be stored in copper containers.

Discussion of emplacement method

Is that a safe method for the required period of 100,000 years? There are different opinions about this in Sweden. In any case, Greenpeace doubts that, according to spokesman Rolf Lindahl: “In view of the great scientific uncertainty, it is wrong for the government to opt for a method that was proposed by the nuclear industry and strongly questioned by independent researchers. Further research is necessary. “

Security is one question – communication is another: How will people be informed about what is in the ground in Östhammar in the next 100,000 years? This is something Anna Storm, Professor of Technology and Social Change at Linköping University, thinks about.

“Because this is such an unpredictable period of time, the information transfer is incredibly important. One suggestion is a spike field, i.e. deterrent markings in the landscape in the form of sharp, huge spikes around the repository. You have to start somewhere. Maybe you can we don’t hedge for 100,000 years, we hedge a few hundred years and then pass the ball.”

Now the court has to decide – it will probably be a few years before the groundbreaking ceremony.

Sweden’s government says yes to the repository

Sofie Donges, ARD Stockholm, 27.1.2022 8:32 p.m