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Östhammar wins bid to store nuclear waste

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Östhammar wins bid to store nuclear waste
13:46 CEST+02:00
The eastern Swedish town of Östhammar has seen off rival bidder Oskarshamn and secured a lucrative deal to store nuclear waste for the next 100,000 years, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) said in a statement on Wednesday.

Plans call for all the spent nuclear fuel from Swedish nuclear power plants to be deposited in a repository at a depth of nearly 500 metres underground in the crystalline bedrock.

Construction on the cutting-edge site could begin in 2016 and the site could be inaugurated in 2022 or 2024, according to SKB.

The Östhammar site is located near the Forsmark nuclear facility and was chosen in part because rock at the level where the spent nuclear fuel will be stored is dry and relatively free of fractures.

“The selection of a site is a milestone for the Swedish nuclear waste programme. We see a clear advantage for Forsmark concerning long-term safety”, said SKB President Claes Thegerström in a statement.

In addition, placing the underground storage facility at Forsmark will require less space, meaning less rock will need to be excavated.

Nuclear power has been around for decades and currently accounts for 14 percent of the world's electricity production. But while there are interim storage facilities for high-level nuclear waste, no permanent storage solution exists yet.

Sweden, Finland and France all aim to have final repositories in place by 2030.

The Swedish technique consists of storing two tonnes of spent fuel in copper-coated canisters that weigh 25 tonnes each.

Each canister is welded shut using a special technique and then mechanically deposited in a tunnel in the repository.

A buffer of bentonite clay, a volcanic ash that when mixed with water swells to provide a watertight barrier and protect against earthquakes, is then injected to fill the hole in the rock.

The next step for SKB is to begin the process of applying for permits to be reviewed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority and the Environmental Court.

"We are now focusing our work on putting together the necessary documentation to submit a licence application for constructing a safe repository for nuclear fuel in Forsmark," said Thegerström.

The company expects to have its applications submitted sometime in 2010.

High-level nuclear waste from Sweden's 10 reactors has since 1985 been stored at a central interim storage facility in Oskarshamn.

After several decades of interim storage, about one percent of the radioactivity remains. But only after 100,000 years will the radioactivity decline to the level the uranium ore had when it was mined.

In Sweden, where 45 percent of electricity production comes from nuclear power, the government in February reversed a decision to phase out the country's 10 nuclear reactors.

Instead, they can now be replaced at the end of their life spans as part of an ambitious new climate programme.

See also: Sweden poised to bury nuclear waste for 100,000 years

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