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Sweden picks site to bury nuclear waste for 100,000 years

Forsmark, already home to a nuclear power plant, was competing with another town in southwestern Sweden, Oskarshamn, to welcome the final repository.
by Staff Writers
Stockholm (AFP) June 3, 2009
One of the world's first permanent nuclear waste storage sites that can house highly radioactive waste for more than 100,000 years will be built in Sweden, project officials said on Wednesday.

The waste will be buried in tunnels drilled 500 metres (1,640 feet) underground in the bedrock in Forsmark, near the town of Oesthammar 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Stockholm, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) said.

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

"The selection of a site is a milestone for the Swedish nuclear waste programme," SKB president Claes Thegerstroem said in a statement.

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.

Forsmark, already home to a nuclear power plant, was competing with another town in southwestern Sweden, Oskarshamn, to welcome the final repository.

Public acceptance in both towns hovered around 80 percent.

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.

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