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Tierp and Oskarshamn


Mr Olof Söderberg, special advisor to the Government on nuclear waste issues, and Mr Claes Thegerström, vice-president of SKB, introduced the Swedish case studies with a general background presentation of the Swedish context. Bengt Leijon (SKB), Krister Hallberg (Oskarshamn) and Olov Holmstrand (The Waste Network - a national NGO) presented the Oskarshamn case. Saïda Engström (SKB), Lars-Peter Hollstrand, Erland Olsson, and Torbjörn Lennartsson (Tierp), and Jenny Lundström (SOS Tierp- a local NGO) presented the Tierp case.

The Swedish Nuclear Waste Management process

The site selection process in Sweden is carried out under the responsibility of SKB, a company owned by the nuclear power plants operators. But the actual siting and construction of a repository will require a formal permit by the Government including a formal consent by the concerned municipality.

SKB is to present to the Government, every third year, its programme for research and development (RD&D-Programme; Research, Development and Demonstration). These programmes are thoroughly reviewed by the nuclear regulatory authorities. Comments are also invited from a broad range of organisations including the municipalities that are directly concerned by the work of SKB and from environmental organisations. Based on recommendations by the authorities and ministerial advice, the Government states its opinion about the general direction of SKB’s work as described in the RD&D-Programme. These recurrent government statements have an important influence on the work of SKB.

In the 1990s following desk siting studies at the level of the whole Sweden, feasibility studies were carried out in eight municipalities. Two initial feasibility studies in remote municipalities in northern Sweden ended up with negative votes in local referenda. SKB decided not to continue any work relating to siting in those municipalities. SKB’s analysis of the developments concludes that these municipalities experienced a lack of national and regional support. SKB also had a feeling that safety regulators were not yet in phase and ready for full participation in the process. As a result of these experiences, the siting process developed and became more defined. Starting in the middle of the 1990’s, six more feasibility studies were carried out in municipalities hosting nuclear reactors or in neighbouring municipalities. The Government took some important measures like, for instance, deciding that local municipalities should get funding for their participation. A real local involvement in dialogue was noted as well as a clearer national and regional support.

Feasibility studies comprised two parts. One was a fact-finding part, putting together information about geology, technical aspects regarding transportation, the technical feasibility of constructing and operating a repository, land use aspects, environmental impact and societal aspects. The other part was an active dialogue with the municipality, the local interest organisations and the public initiated by the company from the start. SKB also had formal consultations with the actors of the programme on both the regional and national levels.

In December 2000 SKB announced that the company would like to start site investigations in three identified areas, one of which is situated close to the nuclear power plant of Oskarshamn and the other two in the part of Sweden where the Forsmark nuclear power plant is operating (Alvkarleby/Tierp and Östhammar). In return, the municipal elected councils declared that the issue of ‘allowing’ a site investigation within a certain area of the municipality will not be discussed unless both the regulatory authorities and the Government reviewed the basis for SKB’s proposals and publicly stated that they find SKB’s proposals well founded. This review was under study within the Ministry of the Environment when this case was presented.

One underlying and important assumption behind SKB’s site selection activities is that the selected site should be suitable for deep geological disposal (in hard rock at around 500 m depth) according to the KBS-3-method. Both the Government and the regulatory authorities have accepted the KBS-3-method as a main alternative for site investigations when reviewing SKB’s research and development programmes. It should be noted, however, that even if the Government follows this recommendation, neither the Government and regulators nor SKB have taken a final position on the issue whether final disposal is to be carried out according to the KBS-3-method, or if any other strategy or method should be applied. This will be decided during the review of the licence application.

Important also in the Swedish process is that according to the environmental legislation municipalities have a veto right as regards nuclear installations projects.


Oskarshamn is familiar with nuclear energy since it hosts three OKG nuclear reactors, and three SKB facilities: a central interim storage for spent fuel (CLAB), the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory, and a Canister Laboratory located in the city harbour area.

Because all Swedish spent fuel is being transported to and stored in Oskarshamn there is an awareness that like it or not the municipality must engage itself in how to finally solve the spent fuel issue. When Oskarshamn was asked to participate in a feasibility study there was no or little discussion about if to engage or not. Rather the discussion was about how an acceptable democratic decision-making process with local influence would be designed to be acceptable to the municipality.

During the feasibility studies SKB made active communication to reach out to people and discuss the possible siting of a repository. All the topical reports were presented by the experts to the municipality and the public. The final report was also subject to a comprehensive review process by the municipality. In order to answer the local community’s questions and request, several changes were made all the way from details to complementary studies. From SKB’s viewpoint, these questions and these requests for clarification benefited to SKB project and the programme as a whole.

When solicited, Oskarshamn municipality made two requests: that it should be provided with financial resources in order for the local people to become a competent actor in the dialogue; that the study could be discussed in a forum where the nuclear power company SKB, the county council and the municipality but also the national nuclear safety authorities, should be represented. Following this request, legislation was enacted to enable the Government to provide for an annual grant for all municipalities involved in feasibility studies. The grants were financed from the assets of the national Nuclear Waste Fund (which had been set up much earlier in order to secure the financing of costs in connection with permanently taking care of Swedish spent nuclear fuel etc.) A forum, that adapted international best practice for an EIA process, was set up at the regional level.

The municipality set up three working groups with 15 members each. The purpose of these groups was to increase competence among the public and the decision makers, to provide channels for dialogue, to find out citizens’ attitude to continued site investigation in Oskarshamn, and to review SKB’s choice of methods and sites for the feasibility studies in order to arrive at the basis for the municipality council decision. The reference group was the council with the 51 elected politicians. The working groups comprised local politicians, members of organisations, neighbours, representatives from neighbouring municipalities and also municipal civil servants. The parties that voted no to a feasibility study in Oskarshamn were also part of the working groups, and their critical attitude in the nuclear waste issue was considered to contribute considerably to the work, stretching the issues and delving deep into the different aspects. A project management served the working groups, giving access to expertise and other resources. Hundreds of education meetings were organised from radiation matters to legislation. The local people were informed of the work and were involved in discussing the nuclear waste issue.

Oskarshamn experience is that a traditional political structure is more than sufficient, but new methods are required to adapt this structure to the needs of today. Citizens can be solicited to participate and their contributions entail a better base in making decisions. From a NGO point of view, although the Oskarshamn experience is valued, there are concerns about the general design of the Swedish decision-making process for nuclear waste management. According to this view, the nuclear issue is not discussed at the national level, except for a successful dialogue in 1990-1992 with the different stakeholders. Hence, the environmental NGOs feel they do not have opportunity to get involved, other than to act through local groups in the concerned communities. The national NGOs also consider that they lack the necessary resources to act independently, to keep up with reports and meetings, to hire their own experts, who could increase their knowledge and competence, and could contribute to the process. As regards the process itself the NGOs view that the choice of method should be taken before the choice of site, otherwise it could be suspected that the choice is based on political acceptance and not primarily on environment and safety considerations. The methodology should be discussed widely beforehand. Eventually the view is made that an independent body not linked with the nuclear operators should lead the process.


Unlike Oskarshamn Tierp hosts no nuclear facility but the community felt concerned by the feasibility studies conducted in the neighbouring town of Östhammar, and decided in 1998 to get also directly involved. For the municipality, there was an ethical choice to take responsibility for the waste resulting from the use of electricity, as well as an interest to have planning material brought up through the studies.

SKB opened an office in Tierp in 1999, and proposed a feasibility study working plan for review to the municipality the same year. Once agreed, the plan was implemented. A particular issue, which was looked at as regards technical aspects, was transportation since Tierp does not have a direct access to the sea. As studies were carried out, SKB went to people in small markets, in working places, to meet them, present methods about the technology, the laws governing its work, the ethical as well as the democratic aspects. The preliminary final report, summarising all the findings from the feasibility study was released for municipality review and scrutiny in February 2000. In November 2000 the municipality made a statement on the report, and came up with a demand for additional investigations from transportation to socio-psychological aspects related to a future deep repository. The municipality saw the benefits of having a reference group with a very wide range in representation but not too many people involved: one representative from each party in the municipality council and a few representatives from different interest groups (environmental movement, parents with small children, SOS-Tierp, unions and representatives from private enterprise). Comprehensive information about the issue was disseminated to the inhabitants and the reference group was in return provided with feedback from the inhabitants, their opinions and their views.

Furthermore, the reference group participated in SKB reviews to accumulate the necessary knowledge. The municipality was also present at markets and local events. As a result of its work the municipality developed a vision for its future, and compared it with a situation where the community would host a repository in order to bring forward its possible impact. On the whole, it was considered that the repository in Tierp fitted well in the municipality vision. Specific work was also carried out on the impact of the repository on people’s health and quality of life and, in the reverse, on the impact of attitudes and concern on the society’s development.

During the preparation of the reference group, the municipality realized that a local NGO, SOS-Tierp, was already ahead in disseminating information. After discussion, the municipality decided to grant the NGO an annual funding of 200,000 SEK.

SOS-Tierp is a citizen organisation founded in 1998 to make a critical review of the nuclear waste issue and to increase the debate on these questions. The views made by SOS-Tierp are mostly questioning the national decision-making process. Legal requirements will only occur when an application is made for the construction of a facility. In SOS-Tierp’s view this results in the implementer being the main designer of the siting process, and acceptance considerations overriding safety concerns: the focus on three sites makes the implementer dependent on communities and doesn’t favour the discussion of controversial issues. SOS-Tierp considers that conflict areas need to be more investigated because they would increase the debate and improve the outcome. The NGO feels it is often thought to be irresponsible because it opposes the given technical project whereas it would like to take responsibility for nuclear waste, e.g. by getting involved in a discussion on selection criteria.

Find additional information on this case study in the report of the Oskarshamn conference, September 2001


In March 2002 the municipal council of Oskarshamn almost unanimously voted to ‘allow the start of a site investigation’ within a certain area of the municipality. In April 2002 the municipal council of Tierp, with a narrow majority, decided to say NO to a site investigation and SKB subsequently stopped all activities in that municipality. In Östhammar, the third municipality where SKB wanted to start site investigations, the municipal council voted YES with a solid majority in December 2001. As a result, SKB is currently carrying out two site investigations (in areas close to the NPPs in those two municipalities).


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