Nuclear waste repository site will be near nuclear plant
By Linda Pentz Gunter
“Who is going to take care of it if we’re not going to do it?” asks a Swedish official during the 2013 Swiss documentary, Journey to the Safest Place on Earth.
The councilman was attempting to justify and rationalize his municipality’s willingness to host a deep geologic repository (DGR) for Sweden’s high-level radioactive reactor waste. It was all about a sense of collective responsibility, he said.
Last week, the Swedish government approved a nuclear DGR for the Forsmark community in the municipality of Östhammar, one of two previously identified volunteer communities.
Forsmark is already home to one of Sweden’s three nuclear power plants, as well as a low-level radioactive waste repository. Sweden has accumulated more than 8,000 tons of highly radioactive waste since its six reactors first began operating in the 1970s.
Echoing the earlier sentiment, Sweden’s environment minister, Annika Strandhall, said in a press conference announcing the selection of the repository site: “Our generation must take responsibility for nuclear waste.” But there may be more to the story.
The Forsmark announcement comes on the heels of considerable political pressure to maintain or even expand Sweden’s nuclear power program. A recent story by Bloomberg — Sweden Approves Nuclear Waste Site to Keep Its Reactors Running — gives away right in the headline the likely agenda behind the repository announcement.
Currently, Swedish operators are “only allowed to build a new unit to directly replace an old one”. Meanwhile, operators had warned that they were running out of nuclear waste storage space, forcing closures.
But if a “solution” to the waste problem should suddenly manifest, such as a DGR, the argument for nuclear maintenance and expansion is considerably, if wrongly, strengthened.
Sweden’s decision is based on the same premise, in principle, that Hagen’s film takes; that a DGR is the preferable option for storing the world’s most dangerous and long-lived nuclear waste. But the journey Hagen takes only serves to highlight the near-impossibility, almost everywhere, of finding a technically, ethically and politically acceptable site.