Author Archives: Ingrid Becker

Sweden Tries Taming its “Fox”

Making strides toward nuclear waste disposal by empowering communities

Ingrid Becker

The Forsmark nuclear power plant is one of three in Sweden where about half the nation's electricity comes from 10 reactors built on the coast.

Sweden gets a lot of press as the country that’s figured out not only how and where to dispose of its nuclear waste but – significantly — how to win community support.
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Sweden’s Holding Tank For Nuclear Waste

This is the third in a series of dispatches from Sweden, where Ingrid Becker is touring facilities for storage of nuclear waste. These posts preview an upcoming radio series on The California Report.

The panel advising President Obama is recommending the United States “proceed expeditiously” to establish one or more consolidated “interim” sites for storing high-level nuclear waste. Expeditious isn’t a word often associated with the U.S. Department of Energy’s troubled waste siting program. And, commissioners didn’t say where they would suggest putting the spent fuel, but Yucca Mountain certainly wasn’t mentioned in the series of draft reports from the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. What the commissioners did recommend is that a new organization –independent of the Department of Energy — be formed to develop a waste disposal program.  The idea didn’t set well with some House Republicans. Continue reading

Going Underground in Sweden

…where they actually can get a repository built for “high-level” nuclear waste (they think)

Follow the yellow brick road? The Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory in Sweden. (Photo: Ingrid Becker)

This summer, Climate Watch will launch a three-part radio series on the nuclear waste dilemma. As part of the reporting for that series, The California Report’s senior producer, Ingrid Becker, traveled to Sweden to examine a program touted as a potential model for the world. This dispatch is the second part of her series preview.

The road to Äspö from Gothenburg, where I arrived from San Francisco, winds through a storybook landscape of small farms, lush forests and brick-red houses. Road signs warning of moose crossings pop up at regular intervals along the highways and back roads.

Traditional wooden houses like this one dot the landscape in Småland, the historical province where the Swedes have built a demonstration laboratory for storing spent nuclear fuel. (Photo: Ingrid Becker)

And so it was a bit jarring to later find myself in a granite cavern, standing face-to-face with giant copper tubes, enormous machinery and a specially designed fuel transport vehicle quaintly named after one of the Viking gods.

The trip, 340 meters (1,115 feet) below ground to the demonstration tunnel takes a full minute in a noisy and slightly bumpy elevator. Before we enter the tunnel, I must strap on a transponder, a safety precaution in case of emergency. At this point I’m asking myself if I should be alarmed, but the attentive public relations officer assures me that since the facility opened in 1995, about 10,000 visitors a year have made this trek. Continue reading

Sweden’s Nuclear Waste Solution

In the weeks to come, Climate Watch will launch a three-part radio series on the nuclear waste dilemma. As part of the reporting for that series, The California Report’s senior producer, Ingrid Becker, traveled to Sweden to examine a program touted as a potential model for the world. This dispatch from Becker is a preview of the series.

How Sweden is getting some to say, “Yes, in my backyard,” Part 1

The country that brought the world Alfred Nobel and his dynamite, Volvo cars and IKEA furniture is busy touting another invention.  The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, or SKB, has asked for government permission to build what could become one of the world’s first permanent geologic repositories for spent nuclear fuel.

SKB public relations officer Brita Freudenthal encourages visitors to touch models of the copper canisters at the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory, where plans are being developed for permanent storage of nuclear waste. (Photo: Ingrid Becker)

I’m in Sweden this month to learn just what this environmentally-conscious nation of nine million people can teach us about managing the radioactive refuse from commercial reactors. While the waste from California’s two nuclear power plants — Diablo Canyon and San Onofre – is piling up in temporary storage containers (with still more at the decommissioned Rancho Seco plant, near Lodi), Sweden is moving forward with a program 30 years in the making, to safely dispose of the spent uranium dioxide pellets that fuel its ten reactors

”I believe it has been a strength that industry has had a clear task to solve the (waste) problem,” says SKB’s Chief Executive Officer Claes Thegerström, in a recent interview for the company website. “When we began, we had right from the beginning a mix of experienced people from the industry. We had outgoing academics and, strong authorities, which allowed us – in contrast to the American way – to own the mission.”

This week I’m in Stockholm where we’ll hear more about the Swedish example during a two-day gathering of social scientists, legal scholars, and industry experts, as well as political and community leaders from Sweden and abroad. Continue reading