Friday, June 18, 2010

Sweden stays on flight path to nuclear future

glide pathDespite a close vote in parliament, polls show strong support for new reactors to tackle climate change

Sweden’s parliament overturned June 17 a 30-year-old ban on new nuclear reactors, adding to the renewed momentum behind nuclear energy in Europe as countries try to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The Riksdag voted by a narrow 174-172 margin in favor of replacing Sweden’s existing fleet of 10 reactors, which provide nearly half the country’s electricity, when they get too old in the next few decades. The new reactors will be built as the old ones are taken out of service.

Andreas_Carlgren The Financial Times reported June 18 that Andreas Calrlgren (left), the environmental minister, said, “With this bill we can leave decades of political strife behind us..” He added that nuclear power is essential to secure stable supplies of carbon emission free power.

The alternative for Sweden is to become even more dependent on natural gas from Russia along with the political risk that is part of the deal. Next door to Sweden, Finland is planning new reactors for the same reasons.

Under the bill, the number of new reactors cannot exceed 10, but there is no limit on the power level for new units. The current level of power generation is about 9 GWe.

AFP wire service reported that the bill sets goals for decarbonization of the Swedish economy with a focus on transportation and industrial sectors.

The bill also limits government involvement in building the new reactors banning any subsidies and lifting a cap on liability for utilities in the case of an accident.

Sweden had been committed to phasing out nuclear power since a 1980 referendum in which voters ruled out a new generation of reactors. The government decided last year to push for a change in policy after two members of the four-party coalition reversed their anti-nuclear stance. The oldest reactor in Sweden is Oskarshamn-1 which began commercial operation in 1972.

Industry supports new reactors

Swedish utilities welcomed the vote saying it is important because it allows them to plan for new reactors to replace the old ones by 2025. The country has energy intensive industries including paper and steel who have campaigned for the legislation on the grounds wind and solar energy cannot provide enough power their factories.

Tens of thousands of jobs hang in the balance. Labor unions in Sweden, generally in a center-left political stance, support new nuclear plants and aligned with industry in lobbying parliament to pass the measure.

Opposition plays on uncertainty of the election cycle

The Social Democrats, who generally oppose nuclear power, pledged to overturn the law if they win the next election scheduled for September. In the meantime, their plan is to sow enough uncertainty in the minds of utilities that they will postpone plans to replace the country’s aging reactors. None will start new projects if they feel a future government will pull the rug out from under them.

Forsmark gateGreenpeace staged a protest at a nuclear plant in Forsmark last week in which a 50 people participating in the action were arrested for trespassing on to the plant grounds.

The Financial Times June 18 quoted a Greenpeace spokesperson who said, “All evidence shows that nuclear power is dangerous, expensive, and a dead end distraction from real solutions to climate protection and energy security.”

The BBC reported that 29 of those arrested came from the UK, Germany, and Poland indicating the activism is not especially home grown since Greenpeace had to import more than half the people involved in the protest. Authorities later released those arrested on their own recognizance setting a hearing for July 1.

(NucNet) contributed content to this report.

Prior coverage on this blog

  • February 2009 - Sweden soars to center of new nuclear movement in Europe

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