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Sweden bans uranium mining

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén ‒ WISE Sweden

All mining of uranium in Sweden will soon be outlawed. The ban also applies to processing of residual uranium in existing tailings, and processing of uranium unearthed in conjunction with extraction of other minerals, e.g. iron, base metals and rare earth elements. Unless Parliament says otherwise, the law will take effect on August 1.

The current Red-Green coalition government, with the support of the Left Party, tabled the proposal in March. But the parties are outnumbered by a four-party non-socialist 'Alliance', plus a pro-nuclear nationalist party, and the prospects of getting the bill through Parliament appeared slim. Then, the rural-based Center Party broke ranks with the Alliance and declared their support for the uranium ban. Spokeswoman Helena Lindahl defended the party's decision: "It's clear to us that 'the renewables society' is on the doorstep, and nuclear energy has no place in it. Which means no place for uranium mining, a hazardous business, either. All things considered, we see no future in it."

The main arguments put forward by proponents of the ban concern the environmental impacts of uranium exploitation and the risks that radioactive pollution poses to human health. A third concern is the acute anxiety communities in uranium-rich regions of the country, from north to south, have experienced from time to time ever since the 1970s. Interest in Swedish uranium rises and falls with fluctuations in world market prices for the metal.

Uranium will now be stricken from the list of concession minerals in the Minerals Act, which means that no permits to prospect for, to explore or exploit uranium deposits can be issued. Relevant passages in the Environmental Code will also be altered accordingly. The inclusion of exploratory activities in the ban comes as a great relief to these communities, who have had to maintain a preparedness to organize 24/7 on-site vigils and, on occasion, non-violent obstruction, to keep concession-holders from breaking ground.

Local governments in Sweden have the right of veto when it comes to land use, including exploitation of mineral resources. But, prospecting and exploration fall under the auspices of the Mining Inspectorate, a non-elected national institution founded in 1637 to promote the country's then-fledgling metallurgic industry. The Inspectorate has on several occasions granted concessions to international prospectors, despite unanimous opposition on the part of County and local government. Furthermore, local government's right to veto mining, while set out in law, has no foundation in the Swedish constitution. Protesters have been painfully aware that it would take no more than a vote of parliament to do away with that protection.

100% imports

Sweden has quite a lot of uranium, reputedly 80 % of EU reserves, and 15% of uranium deposits worldwide. Yet, all of the uranium fuel for Sweden's shrinking nuclear energy park is imported, principally from Canada and Australia. This fact figures in the debate around the ban – perhaps surprisingly, both pro and con:

  • Environmentalists are well aware that mining operations abroad are just as destructive there as they would be here at home. What is more, the impacts are borne by politically and economically disadvantaged groups. This, they reason, is yet another reason to phase out our country's reliance on nuclear energy. ASAP!
  • Some die-hard advocates of nuclear energy point to the same exploitation of landscapes and peoples abroad and find it "immoral" for us to let others suffer the consequences of mining. We should, they argue, exploit our own resources. Therefore, they oppose the ban.

Bitter experience

As in many other countries, Sweden's commitment to nuclear energy was a child of the Cold War, closely intertwined with plans through the 1950s and '60s to develop a 'nuclear defense capacity'. Those plans, long held secret, came to an abrupt halt with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968.

To ensure national self-sufficiency, an open-pit uranium mine was opened in Billingen, an alum shale ridge in south-central Sweden. Operations were short-lived; mining started in 1965 and ceased in 1969. Whether it was ever profitable is a matter of debate.

But the real 'bottom line' is this: In those four years of operation, the mine and processing plant produced a total of 215 tons of uranium. And 1,500,000 tons of radioactive tailings.

The tailings were stashed in a natural depression near the processing plant, an area of about 25 hectares, which subsequently turned into a man-made lake. Unfortunately, the effects of precipitation had been grossly underestimated. In 1990, a program to mitigate leaching from the depot got under way. The program was termed successful; radioactivity in and around the 'lake' had been brought under hazard thresholds in 2006. In 2007 the program had cost SEK 250 million. Further improvements, from 2008 to the near-present, have cost an additional 200 million, at least. (That translates into approximately €50 million / US$56 million in historical prices for the period as a whole). This past January the area was declared an 'environmental risk area'. The area remains polluted, but mitigation efforts will cease. It will continue to be monitored, and uses of the area restricted.

Sources (all in Swedish):

‒ Government Bill 2017/18:212, Förbud mot utvinning av uran.

‒ Lars Olof Höglund: Kunskapsläge om miljökonsekvenser av prospektering, utvinning och bearbetning av mineraltillgångar av uran [What is known about the environmental consequences of prospecting, mining and processing of uranium ores]. Kemakta AR 2010-07 (2010).

‒ Regeringen. "Regeringen vill förbjuda utvinning av uran i Sverige", 1 March 2018. (Press release)

‒ Skaraborgs Allehanda: Deponi i Ranstad skyddas. 11 January 2018.

‒ Sveriges Radio/Ekot: Stöd för förbud mot uranbrytning. 19 April 2018.

‒ SWECO. Underlag för beslut om miljöriskområde för lakresthögen vid Ranstad [Supporting documentation for decision to declare the tailings at Ranstad an environmental risk area], Study commissioned by the County of Västra Götaland. 2016-11-23, revised 2017-05-10.

Sweden: Nuclear Waste Fund deficits prompt government action

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén ‒ WISE Sweden

Nuclear Monitor last reported on the chronic deficit in the Swedish Nuclear Waste Fund in 2014 (NM #796; see also #751 and #736).

In the interval since 2014 interwoven streams of events – among regulatory agencies, in government policy, in the energy market – and the declining vigor of nuclear power companies have combined to arouse a great deal of uncertainty about the ability of the Waste Fund to cover costs. Notable among these events are:

  • the newly-appointed chair of the Fund sounded an 'SOS' in June 2015.
  • in 2015, two power companies announced plans to shut down a total of four reactors.
  • in June 2016, the Minister of Energy managed to secure a multiparty Energy Agreement, which included lifting a tax on nuclear power capacity.
  • in 2017, frustration with a lack of transparency regarding the cost estimates and prognoses offered by the industry-owned nuclear waste management company, SKB AB, reached new heights – not only among environmentalists (as usual), but in central institutions like the National Debt Office and the National Audit Office.

In June 2017 the government proposed changes in the law and statute governing financing of the management of Swedish nuclear waste; in December the proposals were approved in the Riksdag. Although the dust is still settling, we now have something to report.

The fund

The Nuclear Waste Fund was founded in 1982. The accumulated funds are intended to cover all aspects of Swedish nuclear waste management, from storage of fuel waste to dismantling of reactors and storage of their components. All R&D for proposed waste management processes, and public vetting of the proposals (still under way) are financed out of the Fund, as well.

The fundament in the scheme for financing waste disposal in Sweden is the so-called 'polluter pays' principle. That is, the cost of waste disposal as outlined above is to be covered by the industry that generates the waste. (That the fees are immediately passed on to end consumers is not considered a problem; instead, it is seen as an incitement to economize on the use of electricity, while stimulating the market for more efficient electrical devices.)

Today, some call the presumption that power companies should act in the public interest "naïve", but one should recall that the situation was quite different back in the 1980s, when the scheme was set up. Then, all nuclear power companies were Swedish-owned and had a substantial element of public sector ownership, i.e., national or local government held controlling interest. Today, two of the three companies, Fortum and Uniper (formerly E.On), are foreign-owned; all, even state-owned Vattenfall, operate for profit. 'Corporate interest' is a relatively new factor in the equation.

The fee

The chief sources of financing are two: a per-kWh fee on nuclear energy generation, and securities (collateral) that are required of reactor operators to cover shortfalls in fee revenue should "unplanned events" impact on the amount of power generated. Most criticism concerns the fees. Estimates of the status of the Fund (the influx of assets in relation to estimated costs) are revised at three-year intervals. They are based on recommendations presented to the Government by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), after consultation with the National Audit Office and the National Institute of Economic Research, a body within the Ministry of Finance.

For many years the fee remained stationary at SEK 0.01/kWh. Estimates presented in 2011 showed a sizeable deficit, however, and in 2012 the fee was raised to SEK 0.02, then raised again to SEK 0.04 in late 2014. The current proposal for 2018-2020 is an average fee of SEK 0.05/kWh. (Average, because some operators will also be paying for the reactors they have shut down ahead of schedule. The actual lifetimes for OKGs two ex-reactors are short of their expected lifetimes by 2.1 and 21.5 years, respectively, so the remaining OKG reactor will now be charged a fee of SEK 0.064/kWh in 2018-2020.)

Payments into the fund will continue as long as nuclear power is generated. Costs will continue to be generated long after nuclear power has ceased to be, which means that total cost estimates, too, need to extend maybe another 40-50 years beyond the theoretical 40- to 50-year lifetime that applies to the reactors. Calculating the status of the Fund that far into the future is difficult.

Chronic and growing deficits

The reasons for the deficit are a mixture of politics, macroeconomics, finance and 'corporate interest'. Some examples:

  • Politics: Politics plays in when the Government sets the sums to be paid. These have most often has been lower than SSM had proposed. As the National Audit Office recently pointed out, government decisions have meant "tens of billions less than what the regulator, SSM, considered necessary". (A kind of fiscal corporate interest may also play a part in this; Vattenfall's profits go straight into the Treasury.)
  • Macroeconomics: Electricity prices have been low in recent years, which affects the companies' ability to pay.
  • Finance: Low interest rates have impacted the market value of bonds in the Fund.
  • Corporate interest: To date, SKB AB's production predictions and prospective cost estimates supplied by the industry – the basis for the regulator's proposals – have missed the mark. Historical analysis reveals that power generation has consistently been overestimated, future costs underestimated.

But another key factor now on the table is a less than penetrating analysis that patently inaccurate estimates and predictions from the industry have been subjected to over the years. More on this below.

There are two prime consequences of underfinancing. One is obvious ‒ there will not be enough money in the fund on the Day of Reckoning, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. But, secondly, setting the fee too low means a de facto state subsidy to nuclear power as long as the reactors are online. University economists second Greenpeace and other non-governmental groups in pointing this out.

Awareness, diagnosis ...

Fears of shortfalls and accusations of "hidden subsidies" in the system have been voiced for well over a decade now, but the latest round started in mid-2013, when SSM and the National Debt Office were unable to agree on a joint recommendation about a revision of the law and statute governing the Nuclear Waste Fund. These included a recommendation to raise the fee. The separate recommendations that they submitted to the Government lay, seemingly unattended to, until December 2014, when the Government announced an 85% hike in the fee, from SEK 0.022/kWh to SEK 0.04. Even this rise was not enough, according to SSM's analyst: "If an estimate for the coming period were to be made today, the figure would land at just under SEK 0.06," he commented to the press.

Crisis awareness regarding the deficit spread to broader circles in mid-2015 when Dan Barr, newly appointed chairman of the Waste Fund, sounded the alarm in Sweden's leading business daily: The Fund is an estimated 11 billion Swedish crowns short (US$1.34 billion; €1.12 billion); something has to be done about it! Mr Barr's call came amidst the decisions of two reactor owners to shut down two reactors each.

Estimates of the shortfall vary widely, from the SEK 11 billion Dan Barr points to and upwards. One main 'X factor' is the cost of dismantling reactors. SKB estimates the cost of dismantling and removal of Sweden's 12 reactors at SEK 23.7 billion. The estimate is signficantly lower than estimates in other countries, and lowest in all of Europe. Furthermore, the costs will be incurred late in the overall process, decades into the future, which amplifies the uncertainty.

The only party that seems not to have recognized the seriousness of the situation is industry-owned SKB AB, who as late as 2016 declared the system to be "robust". Although a full-fledged 'blame game' was under way at the time, everyone else agreed that the nub of the problem lay in the quality of the data the company has provided over the years. Even SSM, known to be sympathetic to the waste management project in most respects, complained of a lack of clarity surrounding SKB's estimates.

SKB has refused to reveal the models they use to arrive at their calculations, despite the regulator's requests. Access to the models is important. An example: SKB's cost estimates in 2013 were 57% higher than the figure they presented in 2007. Without knowing how the figures are arrived at, it is impossible to evaluate them or to make any well-founded assumptions about future cost trends.

SSM itself has come under fire for not vetting the industry's estimates more rigorously. Some point to the fact that by statute SSM has the power to force SKB to reveal their methods, but has chosen not to use it. Government agencies like the National Debt Office and the National Audit Office and academics point out that SSM lacks the auditing competence required to deal with the long-term and complex projections involved.

Another area where the regulator is seen to have favored the industry concerns the presumed reactor lifetimes, which form the basis for calculating payback rates. The law has stipulated a maximum reactor lifetime of 40 years; SKB AB uses 60 years as their base. SSM itself now uses 50 years. SSM has never accepted SKB's use of 60 years, but even though the authority has had the law and statutory muscle on its side, it has not persuaded the company to change its ways.

This practice is questioned by environmentalists and economists alike. Partly as a hidden subsidy, partly because of doubts that Swedish reactors will remain online that long. As Sweden's largest environmental organization summed up its concerns in 2014: "Stricter safety requirements may render new investments unprofitable, measures to remedy operational problems may prove unaffordable, or a new reactor accident somewhere may cause continued operation of Swedish reactors to be called into question."

Then, we have the documented record of Swedish governments, regardless of political hue, further whittling down the fee proposed by the Authority. Most recently, for the period 2018-2020, by 19% in relation to the Authority's draft proposal. This prompted Auditor General Ingvar Mattson to comment in a December 2017 media release: "The Government has on repeated occasions set nuclear waste fees and economic guarantees at levels that are tens of millions [SEK] less than the amounts the Radiation Safety Authority deemed necessary, and [our] analysis shows that the financing system in all probability is underfinanced."

Government 'beneficence' toward power companies arises out of a combination of the returns state-owned Vattenfall produces and external factors. Lessons from the Fukushima disaster have entailed costly improvements in reactor cooling facilities. Meanwhile, electricity prices fell sharply early in the period and are still low. Some alternative, renewable sources of electrical power are now producing at prices nuclear power companies cannot beat. Because of these (and other) factors, Sweden's nuclear park has shrunk by 40%. At the same time, maintaining a sufficient volume of nuclear production is key to maintaining the balance in the Nuclear Waste Fund. In short, politicians' fear of squeezing the industry too hard is perhaps understandable. Yet, the fact remains that unless the Fund is in balance, taxpayers will end up having to fill the gap.

One external factor not related to either energy production or energy policy, but which has eaten into Fund's solidity, is a decline in the market value of the Fund's assets. To date, the Fund has been authorized to invest in bonds and certain other guaranteed interest-bearing securities. Several institutions have pointed to the Fund's vulnerability to trends in the finance market as a weakness in the system that needs to be corrected.

... and therapy?

The Government has responded to the crisis by taking several drastic (by Swedish standards) measures.

In August 2017 the Government transferred primary responsibility for the financing of the Nuclear Waste Fund from the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority to the National Debt Office.

In October 2017, the Riksdag approved a government bill that amends the pertinent law and ordinances in the following respects:

  • The reactor lifetime to be used as the basis for waste fee calculations is extended to 50 years, in line with SSM's recommendation.
  • Rules for estimating costs and prospective fee payments to the Fund have been specified more closely with a view to increasing transparency, in line with advice from the National Debt Office, the National Audit Office and the National Institute of Economic Research.
  • The Nuclear Waste Fund may invest up to 40% of its holdings in common stocks, a request of the Fund. The increased risk that this change implies will be compensated by raising the amount of securities required of reactor owners. (Professor Göran Finnveden, a former board member of the Fund, offers two suggestions in this regard: that the Fund's investments should be long-term, which, he says, would both yield higher returns and reduce the risk to the Treasury; and long-term investments made in "green bonds and similar securities" would have the added advantage of enhancing the sustainability of the Swedish economy, one of the stated aims of government policy.)

No one can say with any certainty that these changes will be enough.

Two issues remain outstanding. First, a proposal to transfer the responsibility to pledge securities from the reactor owners to their parent companies is under consideration. (Nuclear operators in Sweden may be likened to 'shell companies' in the sense that they are provided with only enough capital to keep their reactors in working order; profits are passed on to the parent company.) The Government has said it will present its conclusions in Spring 2018.

A second outstanding issue is the need for a comparative study of the costs of decommissioning reactors performed by a third party, i.e., a body that stands free of the waste management company and reactor owners; this issue is at least on the table.

For decades, the nuclear establishment was a Swedish 'holy cow' and, as such, was not subjected to incisive scrutiny. Not so today. The debate on the deficit in the Nuclear Waste Fund these past two years cuts sharper and deeper than ever before.

Principal sources (all in Swedish):

‒ MKG Web news 25 Oct 2017 and 17 Dec 2017.

‒ National Audit Office, Press material, 7 Dec 2017

‒ National Debt Office, Remissvar _ Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten förslag på kärnavfallsavgifter, finansierings- och kompletteringsbelopp för 2018-1010 (SSM2016-5513-13) 28 augusti 2017 (Solicited comment on preliminary report)

‒ Radiation Safety Authority Press material, 30 Jun 2017

‒ Förslag på kärnavfallsavgifter, finansierings- och kompletteringsbelopp för 2018-2020. Report SSM2016-5513-66, 19 oktober 2017, pp 80ff.

‒ Regeringen Prop. 2016/17:199 om finansiering av kärnavfallsntering (Government Bill)

Swedish nuclear industry loses battle over repository but battle rages on

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Miles Goldstick

On 23 January 2018, both the Swedish Land and Environmental Court (MMD) and the regulatory agency dealing with the nuclear industry, the Nuclear Safety Authority (SSM), submitted their reports to the government regarding the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company's (SKB's) application to build a "final" storage facility for spent fuel.

As SSM had made public months ago, they said yes to the industry proposal. MMD said no. The industry application is however multifaceted and both the "yes" from SSM contains some elements of "no" and the "no" from MMD includes some elements of "yes".

Both MMD and SSM are in agreement on the need for an improved safety analysis. SSM wrote: "SKB may begin construction of the facilities only after SSM has examined and approved a preliminary safety report." MMD wrote in their press release: "The court cannot, based on the current safety assessment, find that the final repository is safe in the long-term".

MMD wrote that SKB's application can only be approved if two conditions are met:

1) "SKB can provide documentation that shows the final storage facility complies in the long-term with requirements of the Environmental Code despite the uncertainties remaining on how the canisters protective capability is effected by a) corrosion due to reaction in oxygen-free water" and four other issues regarding copper corrosion, including the influence of radiation on three additional variables. Amongst other things, SKB has not carried out corrosion tests with a canister containing spent fuel.

Research on copper corrosion was spearheaded by Associate Professor Gunnar Hultquist at KTH, The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. He initiated an experiment in 1986 showing copper corrodes in oxygen-free water. His results were eventually confirmed internationally by independent methods. SKB has tried hard to prove the results are incorrect. Tragically, Gunnar Hultquist died in February 2016. To honor him and his hard work, colleagues visited his grave on 23 January 2018 and left flowers with a note saying, "Congratulations Gunnar, you won in the end!"

2) "It is clarified who is responsible according to the Environmental Code for the final repository in the long-term." This brings the long-term costs to the foreground, and can be considered a victory for critics of nuclear power. SKB has stated in their application that their responsibility ends after a few decades ‒ once the facility is sealed. Östhammar municipality, where the Forsmark site chosen by SKB is located, is especially concerned about the long-term financial liability.

MMD also wrote that the government should consider changing the law to allow SSM authority to require re-approval of SKB's application regarding some aspects of the Environmental Code. This is because SSM has pursued an approach of step-wise approval. Otherwise, the full 566-page report of MMD remains to be assessed.

MMD however also gave their approval to several other main parts of SKB's application, including the environmental impact statement, the public participation process, the location, the facility to build and load the copper canisters, as well as expansion of the current storage system called CLAB. At the same time, though approval was given for these parts, there was also criticism, and MMD pointed out questions that remain to be answered. One main example is in the area of geology, where MMD noted that geologic factors can influence safety.

The government now has to make a decision

According to the legal decision-making process in Sweden regarding projects considered to have an extensive environmental impact, the decision-making authority rests with the government alone. According to the process, the proponent submits an application to both SSM (when radioactive materials are involved) and MMD, who then each make a report to the government according to the respective laws they each are bound by (though there is some overlap).

In Swedish, the SSM and MMD make an "yttrande" to the government. In the official translation used by the court system the word is translated as both "report" and "opinion". Thus, though both SSM and MMD make decisions in their reports, the decisions are not binding on the nuclear industry in the sense of a final yes or no. Only the government can give approval.

If the government does say yes, the industry application goes back to both SSM and MMD who must set conditions for implementation according to their respective laws. The nuclear industry is obligated to comply with these conditions. In theory, a condition can be so stringent that the industry is unable to comply.

Further, before making their decision, the government is obligated to ask the local municipalities concerned if they will permit the respective local activity. The law however allows the government to force a municipality to accept a facility if the answer is no. There are two municipalities concerned: Östhammar, where SKB wants to place the spent fuel, and Oskarshamn, where SKB wants to place the encapsulation facility (and where CLAB is located). Östhammar municipality had planned a non-binding referendum 4 March 2018. Only hours after the announcement of the MMD report on January 23, Östhammar municipality cancelled their referendum.

In other words, regardless of the outcome of the examinations by SSM and MMD, it was always known that in the end that the government would have to say yes or no. Opponents and proponents of the nuclear industry's plans now have to deal with politicians who in general have no technical expertise in the subject matter. The lobbying began almost immediately after the reports of SSM and MMD were made public on January 23, and the government was ready. Reuters reported that Environment Minister Karolina Skog stated no decision would be made during 2018. That was expected as 2018 is an election year in Sweden, which occurs every four years in the beginning of September, this year on September 9. The government would have made the same public statement even if the Land and Environment Court had been fully positive.

In practice, what the "no" by the Land and Environment Court did was cause a delay of at least a year before the nuclear industry internationally has another chance to be able to claim there is a government-sanctioned solution to the spent fuel problem. In that sense, it is a victory for opponents of the nuclear industry's waste management plans and opponents of nuclear power in general. The main battle however rages on. "No rest for the wicked," as the saying goes.

More information:

Senior engineer at Swedish Radiation Safety Authority censored

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén ‒ WISE Sweden

The Swedish nuclear regulatory authority SSM suppressed one of its senior engineer's doubts about the safety of the proposed scheme for storage of Swedish nuclear waste fuel, which he had set out in a memorandum in June 2016.

Earlier this year, SSM signalled a green light for the KBS-3 scheme to proceed to the next phase of the approval process. Whereas the organization claimed that its favorable finding was unanimous, a document leaked to Sweden's principal environmental organization shows that Björn Dverstorp, the engineer directly responsible for assessing the long-term safety of the scheme, had expressed serious concerns about the viability of the copper canisters in which the fuel waste is to be loaded and stored.

Dverstorp is not alone in his concerns. Issues relating to the choice of copper for the canisters have also been raised by a number of senior researchers at the Royal Technological University in Stockholm.

The criterion for approval is that the canisters may be presumed to remain intact for 100,000 years. Referring to the risks of creep strain, stress corrosion and hydrogen-induced embrittlement of the copper, Dverstorp warns that, at worst, the canisters might fail in the first 300 years after their interment. (Failure of the primary barrier at that stage could mean a 41-fold increase in radiation emissions from the repository.) He therefore urged his colleagues to demand that SKB, the nuclear industry-owned company charged to develop the scheme, do further testing and produce evidence that supported the canisters' integrity, before giving a go-ahead.

Dverstorp's concerns were apparently ignored when SSM gave its approval, and they are not reflected in the documents the agency subsequently submitted to the Environmental Court. What is more, SSM's statements to the Court and the general public suggest total agreement within the agency: "It is our policy to give everyone who has taken part in an evaluation an opportunity to express divergent opinions. But no one had any," stated the agency's communication director in an interview.

For his part, Björn Dverstorp does not know exactly when or on what grounds his views were rejected. He was not consulted.

No less worrying is an assurance SSM put forward when Dverstorp's dissent was made known: "SSM believes that SKB will be able to solve these problems [embrittlement and creep strain] at a later stage by one or another means."

Björn Dverstorp advised against making such assurances already in his memorandum of June 2016: "It is not reasonable for SSM to assume responsibility for [the supposition that] improvements in the canister design will resolve identified problems relating to premature canister failure due to creep, etc. That is something that SKB should have to demonstrate."

Sweden is a small country, and the nuclear community here is close-knit. All share a commitment to the technology, and many have sat side-by-side on the same school bench. That makes regulating difficult. Many who have read all of SSM's text production can point to 'telling' passages, where collegiality seems to have interfered with, or at least taken the edge off, regulatory duty.

The fact that the KBS-3 method has been under development for roughly 40 years can, for example, be interpreted differently. SSM takes it as reason to be cautious: "Considering that more than 40 years of work have been invested in the KBS-3 project, we have to make sure that we can explain exactly why we find that SKB's proposal might not meet the criteria [of approval]." (Sveriges Radio Ekot,11 October 2017)

By contrast, Björn Dverstorp puts the burden of proof on SKB: "Developing the canister is a complex and time-consuming task. SKB has been working on it for over thirty years, and so, it is hardly convincing when SKB 'makes guesses' about what further development of the canister design may be able to resolve." (Memorandum 13 June 2016)

The Environmental Court heard testimony, oral and written, from all concerned parties during five weeks in October and November. The panel of jurists will review the material in coming weeks and make a determination as to whether the project is mature enough to be presented to the government for a final decision. At the time of writing, their 'verdict' is expected on 23 January 2018.

Sources (all in Swedish):

Björn Dverstorp: Övergripande synpunkter på GLS-rapporten, Del 1 Om kravuppfyllelse (1:a remissutgåvan 13-3523, daterad 2016-05-27) [General comments on the GLS Report (GLS = Evaluation of long-term safety), Part 1 on fulfilment of approval criteria]. Unpublished memorandum, 13 June 2016.

Annika Digréus: Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten: Risker med planerad slutförvarsmetod [SSM: Risks associated with planned method for final storage]. Sveriges Radio, Ekot: 11 oktober 2017

Kerstin Lundell: Dokumentet avslöjar: Så allvarliga är riskerna [The document reveals dangerous risks]. Sveriges Natur, 23 oktober 2017 (web article, updated 27 October).

Kerstin Lundell: Myndighet mörkade risker [Authority suppressed risks] Sveriges Natur, årg. 108, nr 5 (2017).

Sweden: Energy Commission files final report

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén ‒ WISE Sweden

The multiparty Energy Commission, whose members announced an overall agreement on Swedish energy policy in June 2016, published their final report on 9 January 2017 (SOU 2:2017 in the Government Official Reports series). The details of that announcement were reported in Nuclear Monitor #825. Neither the goals set out in June 2016 nor the internal inconsistencies between them have changed since then.

The present document includes critical comments from the three parliamentary parties that did not participate in the Commission. Otherwise, the few new developments are basically matters of emphasis. Energy efficiency is one such area. Alongside the goal of 100% reliance on electricity from renewable sources by 2040, the members of the Commission are agreed that: "Sweden shall have achieved a 50% in energy efficiency, relative to efficiency in 2005, by 2030." Their measure of energy efficiency is the ratio of "energy supplied in relation to GNP".*

The Swedish Energy Agency will soon open dialogues with the respective branches of industry to draft appropriate strategies and measures for each. Electricity-intensive industries will be given priority, as will measures to reduce electricity use for heating of indoor space. (Cooling needs are relatively minor here in Scandinavia.) A budget to support research and development efforts to improve efficiency will be drawn up during 2017.

Nuclear energy

Since June 2016, the government has abolished the tax on nuclear reactor capacity. The June announcement spoke of a compensatory increase in the tax on electricity use of SEK 0.04. The figure is now a bit higher, SEK 0.042. Electricity-intensive industry, which enjoys a reduced tax rate today, will be exempted from the increase.

As noted back in June 2016, there is no longer an end-date for nuclear energy in Sweden. Existing reactors may be replaced (at current sites only) when their "economic lifetime" has expired, i.e., even after 2040. But, the Commission states, government support for new reactors "in the form of subsidies, direct or indirect, cannot be taken for granted."

Prospective deficits in Sweden's Nuclear Waste Fund and the implications for waste management posed by both recently announced decommissioning of some reactors and probable extension of production in others have been debated far longer than the Commission has been working. The report notes that the government has instructed the Radiation Safety Authority to review the schedule of payments in the light of changes in the length of time Swedish reactors may be expected to operate. The Authority proposes extending the expected lifetime of reactors by 25%, from 40 to 50 years ‒ which, the report indicates, is acceptable to the 'Red-Green' Cabinet.

According to press sources, a revised schedule of payments will be announced "in early 2017".

Dissenting views

Three parties stood outide the Commission: the Sweden Democrats (12.9% of the electorate in 2014), the Left Party (5.7%) and the Liberal Party (5.4%). All three submitted comments that were critical of the Commission's proposals, and these were included as "reservations" in the Commission's report.

The Left Party rejects all aspects that permit or encourage continued use of nuclear energy, particularly the repeal of the capacity tax, the presumed extended life expectancy of reactors, and the (albeit unlikely) prospect of 'new build'. On the other hand, they applaud all the provisions that favor renewable energy sources. In addition, they propose two reforms that do not figure in the Commission's report. First, that the grid be de-privatized and put wholly in the public sector. The prime reason given is that since new technology allows more and more users of electricity to also deliver electricity to the grid, commercial interests should not be allowed to guide distribution infrastructure or policy. Second, research to improve energy storage capacity should be a top priority.

The Liberals, along with the Sweden Democrats, champion continued use of nuclear power. Both are strongly critical of proposed and continued public subsidies to wind and solar power.

The Liberals have no faith in the ability of intermittent and "weather-dependent" energy sources to reduce carbon emissions. They point out that whereas lifting the capacity tax on nuclear reactors makes it possible for owners to increase reactors' capacity, "vigorous subsidization" will allow wind power to out-compete renovated nuclear energy. What is more, they argue, subsidization of renewables will depress the price of EU emission rights, thereby increasing the profitability of coal in the European market.

The Sweden Democrats reject, with one exception, all form of subsidies in the energy market; subsidies (not least the system of 'green electricity certificates') encourage "production for which there is no market demand". They are what has caused the drop in power prices – termed an "energy market crisis" – which we currently experience. Therefore, instead of expanding the certificates, as the Commission proposes, the Sweden Democrats would rather abolish them.

The party follows a consistently market-liberal line of reasoning – until, that is, they turn to nuclear energy. Sweden's nuclear reactors are, they say, the mainstay of Swedish competitive strength. They strongly object to the Commission's agreement to (possibly) refrain from subsidizing replacement nuclear capacity, which in the Sweden Democrats' vision would be so-called 'fourth generation' breeder reactors. But, in the next breath ‒ with regard to hydroelectric capacity – they state: "If we are to achieve long-term sustainability in the electricity market, the lodestar for all actors, large and small, must be that all investments are based on economically rational decisions, where the ... price of electricity is decisive".

Having the British government's decision to go ahead with the Hinkley Point project – despite expected prices that are triple current rates to consumers – freshly in mind, I, for one, find it hard to reconcile this lofty principle with 'fourth-generation nuclear power'.


‒ Energikommissionen. Kraftsamling för framtidens energi [Gathering strength for our energy future]. SOU 2017:2.

‒ SWECO. Ekonomiska förutsättningar för skilda kraftslag [The costs of various energy sources; a comparative analysis], 2016.

New reactors in Sweden? Why Vattenfall's application was 'non-news'

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Sweden

On 31 July the Swedish state-owned power company, Vattenfall, submitted a preliminary application to the regulator concerning the construction of one, possibly two nuclear reactors in Sweden. Considering that Sweden long had a total ban on planning new reactors, such a move might be expected to be hot news – particularly since Vattenfall is owned by a government that professes to promote environmentally sound energy solutions. But it wasn’t.

The ban on planning new reactors was lifted in January 2011. New nuclear reactors are now possible, but the total number may not exceed the present ten. In other words, any new reactor has to replace one that is taken off line. Furthermore, the amendment requires any new reactor to be placed in one of the localities that currently host a nuclear plant. 

Vattenfall’s presentation of the initia-tive makes interesting reading. Practically every third sentence of the press release assures the reader that “this does not mean we are planning to build a reactor”. Instead, the purpose of the application, according to Vattenfall, is to obtain a checklist of the requirements that would have to be fulfilled. The regu-lator’s work on the specifications is ex-pected to take about three years. Only then can the company properly judge the scope and business prospects of constructing a new reactor. 

Besides the cost of construction, other factors that will affect the decision are (1) the estimated relationship of supply to demand for electricity on the Swedish and European markets in the late 2020’s, and (2) the availability of financing and interest on the part of partners in the private sector. Vattenfall notes that its owners require that any venture the company engages in has to be “both profitable and sustainable”. This is a new specification, added after the company’s adventures in Germany (brown coal and nuclear) which eventu-ally led to an abrupt change of management in early 2010 and brought the then-Minister of Industry under fire.

Should the venture seem to be potentially profitable, a long and intricate process will ensue. First, the Radiation Safety Authority will examine a detailed application and solicit the views of several agencies (the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, the Swedish Work Environment Authority) and Svenska Kraftnät, the state-owned public utility that manages the grid. Thereafter, the Authority will make its recommendation to the Government. Parallel with this process, a court will examine the application in light of the requirements of the Environmental Code, focusing on environmental impacts. All in all, approval would probably take 10-15 years. The reactor itself would come on line in 2025, at the earliest.

Political X-factors
Nuclear power is a divisive issue in Sweden, not only between parties but within them. Add to that the distant time horizon and the questions outnumber the answers by far. The decision to lift the ban on ‘new build’ was taken by a Conservative-led coalition of four parties, two of which - the Center Party and the Christian Democrats – have reversed their previous anti-nuclear stance in recent years. The rank-and-file of each are divided. According to the polls, both are dancing around the 4 per cent threshold to representation in Parliament. (The parties’ position on nuclear power is not the reason for the parties’ decline; the reversal of policy on nuclear rather reflects more general factional strife.) In sum, the future of the ruling coalition is highly uncertain. The next general elec-tions are to be held in September 2014.

With the exception of the Greens, the opposition parties that are expected to form a coalition should the current government be ousted have spotty records on nuclear power. The Greens, hardly as large a party in Sweden as in, say, Germany, are alone in their consistent opposition to nuclear. The Left, smallest of the opposition parties, is divided between two priorities: jobs versus the environment. The newly elected party leader, however, has a strong record on environmental issues, energy included. The Social Democrats, largest of the three, are a mixed bag: the most recent party congress formulated the goal of successively replacing the nuclear plant with energy from renewable sources, but at a pace that “poses no threat to either jobs, welfare or the environment”. The newly elected party leader, however, was strongly pro-nuclear when he led the metalworkers’ union. He and the energy spokesperson who commented on Vattenfall’s initiative speak of drafting an energy policy that the whole of Parliament can agree to. Just how strong the party’s commitment to renewables is, and where the Social Democrats might land on the issue 10- 15 years from now, is hard to say. 

Why the application? From a business point of view it is only natural for a nuclear power company to plan for the future. If an inquiry addressed to the re-gulatory authority is the only way to gain a clear picture of future requirements and costs, an application is reasonable enough.

Why state-owned Vattenfall? Over a year has gone by since the government lifted the ban on planning for new reactors. No private actor has stepped for-ward, albeit some major users of energy (the paper-pulp industry, for example) have urged ‘someone’ to take the initiative. It seems likely that the government may have used its influence as owner of Vattenfall to get the ball rolling. A second probable reason is that Vat-tenfall owns 70.4% of Ringhals AB, two of whose reactors are, even today, aged, faulty and costly. One commentator indicated Ringhals, south of Gothen-burg, as the likely site of renewal.

Why now? Sweden is at mid-term in the current election period. Waiting until closer to the next election would heighten the risk of political fission that nuclear power implies – for everyone but the Greens. 

Sources: The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority: / Vattenfall’s press release: 33D6727E24052BF75C979319646ED / and Application: Ansökan Dokumentnr 106880-M-2423 (pdf, in Swedish) Dagens Nyheter (web edition) 7 August, and miscellaneous media notices
Contact: Charly Hultén at WISE Sweden

WISE Sweden

Swedish regulator recommends approval of nuclear waste storage plan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén ‒ WISE Sweden

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, SSM, has recommended the Swedish government give the go-ahead to KBS-3, the nuclear power industry's plans for a final repository for nuclear fuel waste at Forsmark, north of Stockholm. The statement is only a recommendation; it does not constitute approval of the application.

The application for permission to construct KBS-3 is being assessed concurrently by the Environmental Court and by SSM. The Court examines the application against the requirements of the Environmental Code; SSM examines it against the Act on Nuclear Activities and the Radiation Protection Act. Because of the SSM's expertise, the Court also solicits comment from SSM as input into the EIA process mandated under the Environmental Code. It is in this latter context that SSM submitted comments to the Court on June 29.

The June 29 recommendation came amidst mounting concerns as to the ability of the envisaged copper canisters to contain fuel waste in the longer term. Other outstanding issues concern the industry's failure to study alternatives to the chosen KBS-3 method, notably storage in deep boreholes, and the siting process.

Swedish environmental law requires applicants seeking permission to undertake hazardous projects to justify their choice of site, method and technology including a thorough study of alternative options. This, to ensure the "best possible" solutions. The requirement is not present in the legislation SSM normally deals with. That may explain why SSM contents itself with "good enough" ‒ as has the applicant, SKB, for many years. SKB is a company formed specifically to develop a system for final storage of nuclear fuel waste; it is wholly owned by operators of nuclear reactors in Sweden.

Critics of the KBS-3 scheme advocate siting in a region of hydrological influx toward the repository, rather than outflow from it. Both the sites that SKB chose to study are coastal, where outflow predominates. The regulator is content with the fact that the bedrock at the selected site is drier than it is at the other site.

As to method, environmental groups have pointed to the advantages of a deeper repository, 2‒3 km deep into the bedrock, as opposed to the 400‒500 meter depth envisaged in the KBS-3 system. For over 30 years SKB has consistently resisted the thought of any alternative to KBS. The regulatory authority uses a painfully circular argument to defend SKB's choice: neither system is proven. The KBS system has been studied for almost 40 years; the alternative, deep boreholes, has only been worked on for a decade or so, and not at all in Swedish bedrock. Ergo, the KBS concept is superior.

And, perhaps most crucial, the viability of the copper canister – the first line of defense in preventing leakage of radioactivity – might just as well be assessed later on in the process, says SSM.

MKG, the environmental organization, regularly submits solicited comment, most recently at the end of May. There, they argue that SKB's application should be rejected, the prime reason being increasing concern among chemists and radiation scientists that the copper canisters may not stand up to the heat and radiation that their contents give off. 'Creep deformation' of the copper shell is one principal concern; corrosion of the metal in the harsh climate of the repository is another.

Democratic insight at risk

MKG demands that possible weaknesses in the canister be investigated fully in the course of the ongoing EIA process. Postponing consideration of the issue until after the KBS-3 system has received government approval, they point out, will remove the issue from all democratic insight and accountability. Once the government approves the scheme, the open EIA process, in which several non-governmental organizations participate, will end. And no longer will the government have a say ‒ resolving outstanding issues will then be a matter between the waste company and the regulator, which is what SKB has wanted from the start.

How has SSM reached such industry-friendly conclusions, and why break off the vetting process now? Only they can say. But they haven't.

One thing the spokesperson did say, repeatedly and with emphasis, is that management and storage of nuclear waste, fuel waste included, is "the industry's responsibility". Not the regulator's, not the government's, but the industry's. This is no news to anyone in Sweden ‒ but the emphasis may be a clue.

The entire repository project is financed by a fee charged to reactor owners or operators, based on the electricity their reactors deliver. Since 2008, these fees may be complemented by fixed sums levied on licensed operators that no longer produce nuclear energy. The fees are paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund, from which SKB finances its R&D efforts.

The nuclear fuel waste storage project is vastly underfinanced, and the government has announced a sizable increase in the waste management fees to be charged to the remaining reactors ‒ a move SSM itself has long advocated. Even so, some analysts still predict a sizable shortfall.

Recent months have seen definite decisions on the part of power companies to decommission four (of ten) Swedish reactors, plus a threat on the part of state-owned power giant Vattenfall to shut down all five of its remaining reactors unless the government repealed the capacity tax. (The government has set about repealing it.) But the fact is, not a single Swedish reactor is producing electricity at competitive prices just now, capacity tax or no capacity tax.

Perhaps SSM is merely trying to ensure that a solution is arrived at while there are still functioning reactors around to pay the cost of the repository. This is sheer conjecture, but the puzzle pieces do fit.

For a catalogue of environmentalists' principal complaints regarding KBS-3 see Nuclear Monitor #706, 2010,

Sources (in Swedish):

‒ Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten: Presskonferens, 29 juni 2016.

‒ Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten: Yttrande över ansökan från Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB om tillstånd enligt miljöbalken för ett system för hantering och slutförvaring av använt kärnbränsle, 29-06-2016, ss 11-14.

‒ MKG: 'Avstyrk slutförvarsansökan', Nyhetsbrev 1/2016,

‒ MKG: 'Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten tillstyrker slutförvar, trots olösta säkerhetsproblem', Nyhetsbrev 2/2016,

‒ SNF/MKG. Yttrande i sak till Mark- och miljödomstolen ... avseende Svenk Kärnbränslehantering AB:s ansökan enligt miljöbalken rörande ett slutförvarssystem för använt kärnbränsle ... . Stockholm, 2016-05-31. (An English translation will be available in September.)

SKB license application show serious shortcomings

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Joanna Widstrand

In March 2011, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, SKB, submitted an application to build a repository for spent nuclear fuel near the nuclear power plant at Forsmark, about 160 km up the coast from Stockholm. In accordance with Swedish law the application was circulated for comment among all the institutions and organizations that have participated in the Environmental Impact Assessment consultations. Comments were to focus on perceived gaps in SKB’s environmental impact statement. The deadline for comment was 1 June 2012. 

Several parties to the consultations note serious shortcomings in the application and the environmental impact statement (EIS). They include the two national level environmental groups who have taken part in the consultations, namely, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, SSNC, with its sister organization The Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review, MKG, and Milkas, representing the Swedish Anti-Nuclear Movement and Friends of the Earth Sweden.

SKB's license application will now be processed through two parallel reviews in the Swedish legal system: one performed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), who will check the application’s compliance with current legislation in the radiation safety area, and the other performed by the Environmental Court, who will examine its compliance with the Environmental Code. SSM plays two parts in the pro-cess: it is a reviewing body in its own right, and it acts as a consultative body to the Environmental Court. 

The initial phase, in which the need for amendments to the application is to be analysed, is common to both SSM‘s and the Court’s review. This first step of the licensing process is important, since it represents an opportunity for input of a broad range of opinions on the application through a national consultation process. When the present consultation process is ended, the Environmental Court and the SSM will proceed to review the application for as long as they find necessary and then determine what amendments are necessary. Only when the application is complete will the authority and the court start the main review process. If the court decides that the amendments are not satisfactory, the application may be rejected.

In the main review there will be a new consultation on the issues and there will be a hearing; thereafter the court and the regulator will submit their assessments of the application to the Swedish Government. The Government will then decide the final repository’s fate, either granting a license to SKB or rejecting the company’s application, taking due account of the recommendations of SSM and the Environmental Court.

Issues concerning longterm safety
SKB’s proposed method for final disposal of spent nuclear fuel is a KBS-3 repository, the longterm safety of which relies on artificial barriers of copper and clay. The 5 meter long fuel rods are to be put in a total of 6,000 canisters made out of copper, which are to be depo-sited in shallow boreholes about 500 m down in the Forsmark bedrock. The boreholes and access tunnels are to be filled out with bentonite clay with the intention to keep the spent nuclear fuel encapsulated and separated from the biosphere for as long as the contents pose a hazard – in essence, for all time to come. The bentonite clay is supposed to protect the copper canisters from contact with groundwaterleading fissures in the surrounding bedrock. The main function of the clay is for it to swell when in contact with water, pretty much like cat litter does. Once saturated, it is expected to keep the canisters and the spent fuel shielded from their surroundings. SKB assures us that everything will be fine.

However, the organizations who participated in the EIA consultation process are of a different opinion. Particularly critical are, besides environmental organizations, the Swedish Environmental Agency, the municipalities of Östhammar and Oskarshamn, the Royal Institute of Technology, and Lund University. 

The main critique presented in the SSNC’s and MKG’s consultation document is that the company’s application does not contain scientific evidence to support the claims for longterm safety of the repository. Copper corrosion, for example, is a problem that has not been sufficiently investigated by the company. In order for the bentonite clay to function as the intended isolator in the repository, a specific amount of water – not too much, not too little – needs to be present in the bedrock so that the bentonite will start swelling. If the clay does not get activated, which is a possible scenario in the relatively dry Forsmark bedrock, there is an imminent risk that the clay will be affected by the heat and radioactivity coming from the canisters and possibly erode. Given an eroded buffer, the canisters would be exposed to water seeping into the repository, which may corrode the copper canisters. The interplay between the copper and clay in a repository environment is another area that requires further investigation. In sum: It is not  acceptable to build a repository that is supposed to be safe and protect humans and the environment from radioactive waste/pollution/toxicity for over 100,000 years, when so much research on such key issues is still lacking.

Milkas seconds the criticisms put forward by the SSNC and MKG. In addition, Milkas raises issues relating to the geological characteristics of the chosen site. A coastal site like that at Forsmark implies the risk that ground-water will readily spread any leakage from the repository into the Baltic Sea. In the longer term there is the problem of coming ice ages. The repository is to be installed in a tectonic lens – a body of crystalline granite in the midst of a shearing zone. Whereas the zone is stable at present, it may very likely be reactivated under the strains associated with glaciation. On the whole, SKB tends consistently to underestimate the seismic effects of glaciation. The installation of the repository in the lens, in itself, may impair the integrity of the lens, in which case the whole repository is at risk – perhaps even a good deal earlier than the next ice age.

Other concerns include an apparent inability on the part of the applicant to elaborate scenarios that challenge the success of the repository project. Both the Government and the regulatory body have pointed to this bias and called for such scenarios. None has been forthcoming. As a result, we are left to rely on assurances.

A good share of Milkas comments, addressed specifically to the Environmental Court, concerns procedural as well as substantive shortcomings in the EIA process and the EIS in relation to the requirements of the Environmental Code. In Milkas’ view, the applicant has effectively subverted the dialogic method that the Code envisages to ensure allround evaluation of major projects’ environmental consequences.

What next?
SSM's comments on the need for amendments are to be handed in to the Environmental Court by November 1. At the same time the Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste, a consultatory scientific board to the Swedish Government, will give their view. After that, correspondence between SKB and the various organizations who participated in the consultation process will take place in order to discuss the additional work to be required of the company. The Court’s determination on the issue of amendments is expected at the end of 2013, at the earliest. The story continues…

Source and contact: Joanna Widstrand, former project assistant at MKG, the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review.
Tel: +4631-711 00 92
Email: jo.widstrand[at]

WISE Sweden

Sweden: Parliamentary parties put differences on nuclear energy aside

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén – WISE Sweden

It was rabbit-out-of-the-hat time in the Swedish Parliament last Friday, June 10, when Energy Minister Ibrahim Baylan presented an agreement reached within the Energy Commission he appointed in March 2014. Support for the agreement is broad, with five of the eight parties represented in Parliament pledging to honor it. The remaining three parties represent 24% of the electorate, but they do not form a bloc of any kind.

The compromise consists of nine principal points:

– The goal is for Sweden's electricity supply to be 100% from renewable sources in 2040.

– New nuclear plants may be built at existing reactor sites. The total number of Swedish reactors at any time is limited to 10; they may operate, as needed, beyond 2040.

– The existing system of premiums for electricity generated from renewable energy sources will be extended and expanded by 18 TWh between now and 2030.

– Nuclear operators' liability for accidents will triple, from 4 billion SEK to 12 billion. (The so-called Paris Convention contained such a provision, and it has been on the books in Sweden since 2010. But until now, it would take effect only when all the signatories have ratified the Convention. Now, Sweden is taking the step, regardless.) Operators will be required to have full insurance coverage.

– The tax on installed reactor capacity, which the government recently raised, will be scrapped entirely within the next two years. (The fiscal deficit will be covered by a 0.04 SEK hike in energy taxes for households and business. Energy intensive industry is exempt.)

– A comprehensive program for more effective and efficient energy use in the decade starting 2020 is to be drawn up. Funding will also be made available to research on innovative technologies to increase the efficiency of renewable energy sources.

– Currently protected stretches of the country's major rivers will continue to be 'untamed' by dams, etc.

– Property taxes on hydroelectric installations will be reduced (gradually, over the next four years) by an amount that corresponds to the removal of the capacity tax on nuclear power.

– Transmission capacity between Sweden and neighboring countries will be expanded.

Plus a couple of recommendations:

– A special program for energy efficiency in power-intensive industries should be introduced.

– The existing fee for connecting marine-based wind power to the national grid should be removed.

Seen from an energy policy perspective, the agreement is rife with inconsistencies. Not least the first two points on the list are hard to reconcile. The only way to understand it is to see it as a way out of a dilemma, one that has paralyzed energy policy since 1980.

That year, an advisory referendum on the future of nuclear energy in Sweden was forced upon the Social Democratic government. The Social Democrats, who had ruled Sweden a half century, had started a massive nuclear energy program without popular support. The Government narrowly avoided defeat by introducing a third alternative to Yes and No, namely, "Yes, but No": the number of nuclear reactors would continue grow, from six to twelve, but all would be 'retired' by 2010. That short-term subterfuge resulted in a generation-long party-political stalemate.

Last week's grand compromise would appear to follow the same sort of 'logic', this time, "No, but Yes".

But this is not about energy policy, it's all about solving a massive parliamentary impasse. The 'genius' of the compromise is that everyone at the table leaves with a trophy, some measure of 'triumph': "We will have 100% renewable energy by 2040, and nuclear operators will pay a greater share of their costs to society," said the negotiator for the Greens. "We've saved nuclear energy," declared the Christian Democrat, referring to the abolition of the capacity tax and the absence of a time-table for phase-out.

Both statements find support in the agreement.

All the parties stress the value of "long-term certainty" and "stability" of energy policy for industrial planning and competitive strength on world markets, and all have agreed to a laissez-faire approach to nuclear energy. Reactor owners, not politicians, will decide when to call it quits. One key factor makes this policy retreat possible: Nuclear energy is not competitive on the electricity market – even with no capacity tax – and no positive trend is foreseeable. There will be no change in E.ON's and Vattenfall's decisions over the past few months to shut down Sweden's four oldest reactors.

In an interview after the press conference announcing the compromise, Minister Baylan was asked how long the market would support nuclear energy in Sweden. He responded, "That's a matter of personal judgment", but then added that, barring unforeseen developments, he believed that Swedish nuclear energy would be a thing of the past in some thirty to forty years.

One big trophy Mr Baylan takes back to his Cabinet colleagues is this: Sweden has never had a government with such weak parliamentary support, 38% in the last general election. The figure shrinks even further when one considers that the nuclear issue splits the Social Democrats; several labor unions are vehemently pro-nuclear. Moreover, Opposition parties have rallied around nuclear, one of the few issues on which they agree. As a consequence, the one issue that might fell the 'Red-Green coalition' has been nuclear energy. The agreement neutralizes that threat – for the time being.


– Energy Commission Press Conference, 10th July, SVT.

– 'Hushållen betalar slopad effektskatt'. Östra Småland, 11 June 2016, p.B13

– 'OKG:s ägare om energiuppgörelsen: "Vi är glada"'. Östra Småland, 11 June 2016, p.A4

English-language commentary:

– Sam Pothecary, 14 June 2016, 'Major Swedish parties agree to 100% renewable goal by 2040',

– Richard Milne, 10 June 2016, 'Boost to nuclear energy as Sweden agrees to build more reactors',

– NucNet, 13 June 2016, 'Sweden Could Build 10 New Reactors After Major Change To Policy On Nuclear',

Spent fuel storage proposal in Sweden released for public comment

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Miles Goldstick – Swedish Environmental Movement's Nuclear Waste Secretariat

On 29 January 2016 the nuclear industry's application to construct a spent fuel repository beside the Forsmark nuclear power station and an encapsulation facility near the Oskarshamn nuclear power station was released for public comment by both the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (Strålsäkerhetsmydigheten, SSM) and the Land and Environmental Court (Mark- och miljödomstolen, MMD). SSM examines the application according to the Nuclear Activities Act and MMD according to the Environmental Code.

On 5 February 2016, for all countries around the Baltic Sea, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency announced consultation on the application according to articles 4 and 5 of Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) and EU Directive 2011/92/EU for interim storage, encapsulation and final disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Comments are requested no later than 15 April 2016.

The application is to construct a spent fuel repository using a method the Swedish nuclear industry calls KBS-3 (an abbreviation of kärnbränslesäkerhet, nuclear fuel safety; the "3" refers to the third variation). It is a KBS type facility that the Finnish government approved 12 November 2015. The method consists of storing spent fuel in cast iron canisters encapsulated in copper and placed, surrounded by bentonite clay, in holes in the floor of tunnels about 500 meters under the surface in crystalline rock.

An important milestone for Sweden and internationally

Releasing the application for comment is an important milestone in the Swedish regulatory process. It is also an important milestone internationally. The nuclear industry worldwide is keeping a close eye on the process, eagerly hoping for approval of the project and thus being able to claim the spent fuel management problem is solved.

In Finland, the application process is less rigorous than in Sweden. In Finland, a facility about 500 meters below the surface was constructed before the government approved moving forward with a testing phase. In Sweden, if the government approves the application, excavation cannot begin until conditions are set by SSM and the MMD.

The Swedish nuclear industry, via its company SKB, submitted its KBS application to SSM and MMD on 16 March 2011. The period from then until 29 January 2016, almost five years, was needed for SSM and MMD to determine if the application was of adequate quality to be released for public comment. The application was examined to determine if anything was missing. MMD had three rounds of public comment in this phase. As well, SSM made several requests to SKB to supplement the application with further information, e.g. regarding the risk of copper corroding in oxygen free water. MMD however made no such requests but only asked SKB to respond to comments from others. SKB responded by providing very limited supplementary information to both SSM and MMD. Comments by environmental organizations were in generally ignored by SKB and did not result in submission of more information by the company.

Even though the phase of determining if the application was adequate for release for public comment took almost five years, both SSM and MMD have now given the public only a few months to comment on the proposal. The deadline for comments set by MMD is 30 March 2016 and the deadline set by SSM is 30 April 2016.

The next step in the MMD review process is a "main hearing" where oral presentations can be made. Information presented in written form cannot also be given orally. The hearing is scheduled for some time between October and December 2016.

The following step is for MMD to make its statement to the government, which is scheduled for some time between February and June 2017. SSM intends to make its statement to the government about the same time. There may still be delays in the process.

After considering the statements by SSM and MMD, the government can reject the application. If the government is considering approving the application, it must first ask the approval of the Municipality of Östhammar (where Forsmark is located) and the Municipality of Oskarshamn before making its decision. If one or both of the municipalities do not approve, the government can in any case still approve the project. As the next Swedish general election (federal, regional and municipal) is 9 September 2018, the government could postpone its decision until after the election.

If the government approves the application, it is then up to MMD and SSM to set conditions for implementation of the project. SKB can then begin construction. The MMD's decision on conditions can be appealed.

Main technical issues

The main technical issues are not unique to Sweden. These include the method in general (e.g. retrievability and monitorability, including limitation of nuclear proliferation risks), location (e.g. proximity to water bodies, other nuclear facilities and population centers), and geologic conditions regardless of placement on the surface or at some depth. Each method in turn has its own specific technical issues depending on where it is located.

Two main issues of the proposed KBS-3 facility are the corrosion rate of copper and the behaviour of bentonite clay under different hydrological conditions. Both topics are highly technical and comprehensible only to advanced specialists. The same goes for determination of adequate geological stability. Estimation of earthquake risk is very complicated. SKB specialists have not found any technical problem that blocks their project. Independent specialists are however not in agreement.

There are aspects of the KBS-3 proposal that do not require technical expertise, e.g. if monitorability should be required (none is currently included), and placement inland instead of on the Baltic coast to lower the risk of contaminating the Baltic Sea. Both these aspects do not fall into the category of being determinative regarding rejection of a KBS facility. A monitoring system could be added and a site found inland.

The law according to the Environmental Code requires examination of alternative methods. To date, SKB has not according to several stakeholders adequately examined very deep bore holes, dry storage at shallow depths or inside mountains, nor hardened on-site storage (HOSS) of the type discussed in the US. It is up to the MMD to interpret if the legal requirement for examination of alternatives has been met.

Political timing and sustainable development

The issue of political timing is perhaps the most important issue from the perspective of sustainable development. Establishment of a KBS-3 facility will give the nuclear industry the opportunity of claiming that the spent fuel management problem is "solved" and that thus use of nuclear power can be continued and expanded. At the same time, presently existing waste must be handled in the best manner possible. However, adding to the volume of the waste exasperates the problem and increases costs. Delaying a "solution" until nuclear power is no longer considered viable could result in fewer resources being squandered on nuclear power.

Funding for environmental organizations

The current law regulating funding for environmental organizations to participate in the application process states that funding can only be used up to one year after the application is released for public comment. The government, via the Ministry of Environment and Energy is however reviewing the law. SSM has recommended that funding be extended until the government decision according to the Environmental Code (i.e. regarding the statement from MMD), but be kept limited to the KBS-3 application. Environmental organizations have requested the funding be made permanent and be broadened to include all forms of nuclear waste and decommissioning of nuclear facilities. As can be expected, the nuclear industry does not want the funding period to be extended nor broadened.

What you can do

Anyone, anywhere in the world, can make a submission to SSM and MMD. All submissions become part of the public record. Submissions sent to MMD are forwarded to SKB for comment and sent out to a distribution list.

Requests can be made for more time to examine the application. Considering the large volume of material making up the proposal, at least a year is reasonable.

Organizations in countries that are parties to the Espoo Convention should send comments to the Swedish EPA with copies to SSM and MMD (see

Contact information for submissions

Land and Environmental Court


Note case number: M 1333-11

Swedish Radiation Safety Authority


Note case number: SSM2011-1135

Swedish Environmental Protection Agency

Attention: Åsa Wisén

Note case number: NV-07138-15.

More information

KBS-3 and the Final Repository Application – A Little Help With the Flow of Information,

Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (MKG),

Espoo Convention information at

E.ON prevails: Two Swedish reactors to be shut down

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén − WISE Sweden

In July, Nuclear Monitor reported that German power company E.ON announced its intention to shut down two of Sweden's oldest reactors in Oskarshamn between now and 2020 (NM #807, July 30).

Minority owner Fortum (45%) vehemently opposed the decision. So determined was Fortum that it even talked of buying out E.ON (54%) and taking over OKG, which operates three reactors in Oskarshamn. That was in early September. Nothing came of it.

In a last-ditch effort to save the reactors, Fortum and union representatives voted against the proposal in the OKG Board of Directors on September 30, which forced E.ON to take the issue to the shareholders. An extraordinary general meeting, held on October 14, confirmed the decision: O1 and O2 will be shut down.

The decommissioning process – lasting probably a decade or more – will get under way in 2017. Actually, O2 has been offline for nearly two and a half years for upgrading. That project is said to have cost €850 million. The reactor will never produce another kilowatt-hour.

E.ON's decision rested on two 'feet': (1) the company strives to develop sustainable energy sources, and (2) the two aged reactors at Oskarshamn are running at a loss – when they are actually running – due chiefly to the current drop in energy prices and unforeseen safety-related investments in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. E.ON's analysts see no prospect of profitability, even in the longer term.

Conversely, Fortum claims that shutting down the two reactors will cost it €700 million. The company's financial report for January – September 2015 does not specify the claim in detail, but the above-mentioned upgrading of O2 surely accounts for a major share. Roughly 25−30% of the amount would appear to refer to future payments to the waste and decommissioning fund that otherwise would be covered out of power sales. Fortum has opted to book the entire €700 million in the third quarter, this year.

The loss of O1 and O2 – smallish reactors whose combined output is no more than 1,111 MW – is not expected to have any palpable effect on the future price of electricity in the Nordic energy market. But the impact in Oskarshamn will be substantial. 500 of OKG's currently 900 employees will lose their jobs, and OKG is the major employer in the community of roughly 26,000 people. E.ON has expressed hopes that the reduction can be achieved through pension agreements.

The shutdowns will also impact the finances of Karlstad, a municipality distant from Oskarshamn, which has held a 2.13% share in OKG for some fifty years. Once a 'cash cow' for the municipality, ownership of OKG in recent years has been a burden, and divestment has been debated repeatedly in the local government. In 2013-2014, OKG cost the community, with a population of 89,000, a net €270,000. Altogether, Karlstad has more than €64 million locked in OKG in the form of loans and credit guarantees. What E.On's decision will cost Karlstad in the next decade remains to be seen. At face value, it ought to be 2.13% of the total cost. Some of the total may be covered by funds already paid into Sweden's decommissioning and nuclear waste fund, but far from all.


Fortum Corporation January-September 2015, 22 Oct 2015 (financial report, pp 35 and 42).

Fortum Corporation: OKG AB's Extraordinary shareholders' meeting decides to close Oskarshamn nuclear units 1 and 2 co-owned by Fortum in Sweden (press release), 14 Oct 2015.

Nerijus Adomaitis: E.ON, Fortum confirm Swedish nuclear plant closures, Reuters (Oslo), 14 Oct 2015.

Swedish press reports in Svenska Dagbladet/Näringsliv (30 Sept, 14 Oct 2015); Barometern (24 Jun 2015); Värmlands Folkblad (3 Oct 2014, 14 Oct 2015).

Sweden's nuclear park shrinks again

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén − WISE Sweden

On 23 June, E.ON Sweden announced plans to shut down two of the three reactors at Oskarshamn between now and 2020. The reactors' unprofitabiility is cited as the principal reason for the decision, but the move is also in keeping with E.ON's overall turn toward sustainable energy sources.

O1 and O2 (which started up in 1974 and 1972, respectively) are Sweden's oldest reactors, and are also among the four smallest. As reported earlier this year, Vattenfall announced plans to close its oldest reactors, R1 and R2 at Ringhals, in about the same time frame.1

Interviewed after E.ON's announcement, a senior consultant to Vattenfall summed up the situation: "The way the energy market works today, all sources are pooled. The cheapest source gets to produce, and we [R1 and R2] weren't it."

E.ON's motives are the same. Like Vattenfall, it sees no prospect of the price of electricity rising between now and 2020. The two companies are simply cutting their operating losses. In this present case, however, E.ON, which owns 54.5% of the operator, OKG, has taken the decision against the will of minority owner, Fortum (45.5%).

The closure of four reactors within the next five years will bring the Sweden's nuclear park down to half, from twelve to six. Nuclear production capacity will, however, not be reduced by the same proportion. The remaining reactor in Oskarshamn (1985), for example, produces 30% more electricity than O1 and O2 combined. Yet, when Vattenfall announced the closure of R1 and R2, some analysts pointed to six reactors as a 'pain threshold', a point beyond which occasional electricity shortages in the south of Sweden could not be ruled out.

Sweden has got by without O1 and/or O2 for some time. Both have long suffered the frailty of old age. O1 has been on and offline intermittently for years. O2 was taken offline in 2006 for 'modernization' – a project that to date has cost approximately 8 billion SEK (€854m; US$928m) The reactor is scheduled to resume production at the end of 2015, but whether it actually will be brought online remains an open question. As noted above, the owners are not in agreement.

Why pour 8 billion SEK into O2? In short: to convert the reactor to use mixed uranium−plutonium (MOX) fuel. It's a decades-long saga:

  • In 1969, OKG contracted with Sellafield in England to reprocess waste from O1 and O2, soon to come online. Between 1969 and 1984 OKG shipped over 140 tons of waste and paid a total of 650 million SEK to have it reprocessed.
  • In 1984, Sweden changed its policy, forbidding export of waste and mandating direct intermediate storage, pending the creation of a geological repository for nuclear fuel waste in Sweden.
  • What to do with the waste already at Sellafield? In 2006, OKG was granted permission to use MOX fuel in O2 and O3. The decision was controversial, but authorities deemed import of MOX, made out of OKG's waste, to be more in keeping with the new policy.
  • But Sellafield's backlog was long, and years passed. The Sellafield MOX Plant was also wracked with technical problems. In 2011, a decision was taken to shut it down, and in March 2014 Swedish authorities authorized OKG to sell the waste to the British Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, who pledged that it would not be used in nuclear weaponry. With the sale, the MOX scheme would appear to have ended.

Electricity prices

Electricity prices this year are the lowest since 2000. Favorable winter conditions have filled the northern dams. But nuclear's disadvantage on the market is not just of the moment. Analysts discussing the recent phase-out decisions point to longer-term trends. The 'Energiewende' in Germany, and large-scale private investments in energy efficiency measures and renewables (Södra Cell2, a paper pulp factory a stone's throw from Oskarshamn, and IKEA, for example3), are depressing the market and will continue to do so. In addition, nuclear operators face costly investments to meet new safety requirements, such as external core-cooling systems – a lesson from Fukushima. On the margins, a rise in the Swedish reactor capacity tax has also been proposed.

Choosing to look to the bright side, Jonas Abrahamsson, CEO for E.ON Sweden, sums up the situation: "Under current market and political conditions, the trend is clear. We will see fewer, but larger reactors. O3, one of the largest reactors in Sweden today, producing more electricity than O1 and O2 combined, will play a strategic role in stabilizing the Swedish energy supply system for many years to come."


1. Charly Hultén, 7 May 2015, 'Sweden: Vattenfall announces early retirement of two reactors', Nuclear Monitor #803,




In English:

Fortum: "Fortum would prefer continued operations at Oskarshamn nuclear power units 1 and 2" (Press release, 23 June 2015),

In Swedish:

— Mats Knutson/Sveriges Television: "Två kärnkraftsreaktorer kan stängas", 4 juni 2015,

— E.ON: "E.on föreslår ny inriktning för OKG" (Press release, 23 June 2015),

— Monica Kleja: "Eon vill stänga reaktor O2 i förtid", Ny Teknik, 23 juni 2015,

— Monica Kleja: "'Tungt beslut för Eon'" Ny Teknik, 23 juni 2015,

— Sveriges Television: "Eon vill stänga Oskarshamn 2", 23 juni 2015,

A historic day for Swedish wind power

Wind power in Sweden passed a milestone on 31 May 2015. For the first time ever, Swedish windmills produced more wattage and energy (3,412 MW) than the country's nuclear reactors (3,386 MW). The period was only a little over 90 minutes, but is historic.

Professor Thomas Kåberger, former Director of the Swedish Energy Agency and perhaps Sweden's foremost expert on energy, said:

"When nuclear power operates at maximum capacity it can produce 10 GW, whereas maximum production for wind power is roughly half that much. But, for various reasons both nuclear reactors and wind power often operate at less than maximum capacity. Wind power output is predictable because it depends on how windy it is. Nuclear power is less sensitive to the weather, but it is susceptible to technical problems that result in major, sometimes totally unexpected, outages. These past five years, Sweden oldest reactors have not been producing well, and at the moment, for a variety reasons, seven of the ten reactors are down. ..."

Wind power is often criticized for not producing the same amount of energy from day to day. But, as Svensk Vindernergi (Swedish Wind Energy trade association) points out, wind power outages are small relative to what happens when a nuclear reactor is taken off line:

"If seven out of ten reactors can be off line, and it doesn't result in any shortages, it shows we have a robust electricity supply system. It also shows that the system can handle the considerably smaller variations associated with wind power production."

One might say the 'record' is a fluke. On May 31, after all, only three nuclear reactors were on line. But, statistics show that on a regional basis, wind power production is often second only to hydro (see Svensk Vindernergi is confident that this will occur even more frequently as wind power continues to attract investments. In Sweden today, wind power has a potential for expansion on a large scale at the lowest cost per watt.


− "Milstolpe: Vindkraften spöade kärnkraften" Miljöaktuellt, 1 juni 2015, an-karnkraft

− Svensk Vindenergi: "Vindkraft har stor betydelse" (press release), 2 juni 2015,


Sweden: Vattenfall announces early retirement of two reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén − WISE Sweden

On 28 April, Vattenfall CEO Magnus Hall announced that the company will shut down Ringhals 1 (a boiling water reactor that came online in 1976), and Ringhals 2 (pressurized water reactor, 1975) between 2018 and 2020. This is instead of sometime between 2020 and 2025, as previously planned. The announcement follows on the heels of Vattenfall's decision to close its R&D unit devoted to 'new build' (as reported in Nuclear Monitor #797).

The move will bring Vattenfall's remaining fleet down to five reactors, all of which, the company claims, can continue to produce electricity into the 2040s – a planned lifetime of 60 years. (Another three reactors are operated by OKG, a consortium owned by E.ON Sverige and Fortum.)

R1 and R2 are Sweden's oldest reactors, aged 40 and 39 years, respectively. Both reactors are relatively small and currently operate at a loss, due to a sustained fall in electricity prices on the Nord Pool exchange ( Actually, R2 has not produced electricity since August 2014, when a routine inspection found corrosion on the bottom of the containment vessel. The reactor is expected to be out of commission until this coming Fall, at the earliest.

Some compensation for the problems in R2 and the early decommissioning of both R1 and R2 will be provided by an increase in the output of R4 (see box below).

Magnus Hall noted that Vattenfall will be shifting its focus toward sectors of the energy market that are less sensitive to the price of electricity. Alongside a stronger emphasis on renewables, Vattenfall will get more involved in district heating and consultancy in the field of energy efficiency.

Is it the market or political directive?

Vattenfall has been explicit in explaining why the company is making the move: "Electricity prices are on the way down, our costs are going in the opposite direction," Hall told Sveriges Radio in an interview after the announcement. "Market prices are too low, and we see no other way out," he continued.

Vattenfall's press release is equally unequivocal, noting that the company anticipates "continued low electricity prices in coming years", that it faces "increasing production costs", and that the decision on R1 and R2 was "business driven".

The Government, for its part, flatly denies that political pressure has been brought to bear.

In most countries, that would be convincing enough. But Sweden is into its third decade of bitter squabbles over the outcome of an advisory referendum on nuclear energy in 1980 that divided the political spectrum as well as individual parties. Positions taken back then have become entrenched in some quarters.

As a consequence, the Liberal Party leader, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and the political editors at leading Conservative newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet, were all quick to conclude that government pressure lay behind the decision. The current Social Democratic and Green Party Government has made it hard for Vattenfall to turn a profit, they argue, pointing to a recently announced Bill that would raise the tax on reactor capacity (not actual production) as the culprit.

The capacity tax was introduced in 2000 by a Social Democratic Government. In 2008 a Conservative-led Government more than doubled it. A current Bill that proposes to raise the tax again (by 17%) will be debated in Parliament later this month. If passed, it will take effect in August.

Neither Vattenfall's press release nor the CEO's remarks made any reference to the tax.

The consensus view is this: The market is achieving the phase-out that Sweden's politicians have been unable to agree on. The Liberal Party and the Conservatives complain, but only the Sweden Democrats – a nationalist-populist party that received 17% of the vote in last year's election, but remains a pariah in the eyes of all established parties – advocate state subsidization of nuclear energy.

"The other parties are willing to let the phase-out happen," said Tomas Ramberg, a political commentator with the (publicly-funded) Sveriges Radio, in a roundtable discussion. No-one at the table objected.

Another participant in the roundtable discussion was Per Lindvall, economic analyst for Svenska Dagbladet, whose political editors are so eager to blame the Government. Mr Lindvall sees Vattenfall's decision as simply an effective means to cut the company's losses. It is also a "wise" strategy from the company's point of view to reduce overall electricity output, he said.

What are the consequences?

Is this 'the beginning of the end' of nuclear energy in Sweden? Yes and no. More and more Swedes are recognizing that nuclear energy can be a costly habit. Finland's fifth reactor, under construction at Olkiluoto, now at about 270% of the original budget, and the massive subsidies being offered by the British Government to French utility EDF to build new reactors in the UK, have cooled most parties' enthusiasm for 'new build', and subsidization is out. But, as Sweden will still have eight reactors in operation, and the owners envisage reactor lifetimes of up to 60 years, reliance on some amount of nuclear energy will probably be in the picture through the 2030s.

Will the country's energy supply suffer? Not immediately, perhaps not at all. The dominant assessment sees a risk of shortages in the south of Sweden, but only if Sweden's next two oldest reactors, O1 and O2 at Oskarshamn, are taken offline, as well. OKG, the reactors' owner, has complained of operating losses for the same reasons Vattenfall puts forward in relation to the Ringhals 1 and 2. Whether Vattenfall's decision will have any effect on OKG's strategic thinking remains to be seen.

Energy experts caution that the current price-cost ratio may lead to additional phase-outs. As a preparedness measure, Minister of Energy Ibrahim Baylan proposes to extend the maintenance of prepaid capacity reserves managed by Svenska Kraftnät, which operates the national grid. These reserves lie idle until they are needed, for example, under extreme climate conditions when industry is producing at full capacity.

Nuclear owners' decisions to reduce output may, some commentators predict, make it easier for the parties and interest groups to get past the issue of "nuclear energy, for or against" and reach agreement on how to secure the country's power needs. If so, it would definitely facilitate the work of the Energy Commission that the Prime Minister plans to convene.

Will electricity prices rise? Yes, but only moderately in the short term. The only estimate put forward in connection with Vattenfall's latest announcement puts the price rise at +0.01 SEK in 2018, an increase of 3.7%. Predictions for the longer term are uncertain – mainly due to the impact of renewable energy sources and the addition of a fifth Finnish reactor in the region.

Higher prices would not be an unmixed evil. Should prices show a sustained upward trend, it would provide an inducement to Swedish industry to start using currently unexploited in-house energy reserves such as process heat, back pressure, and energy-rich chemical by-products and wastes.



Vattenfall: Vattenfall changes direction for operational lifetime of Ringhals 1 and 2, press release, 28 April 2015,


Ringhals reaktorer stängs tidigare (TT/Ny Teknik 28 April 2015),

Monica Kleja: Ringhals 4 får höja effekten (Ny Teknik 4 February 2015),

Sveriges Radio/P1 Studio Ett, 28 April 2015,

Björn Dickson, Anna De Lima Fagerlind: Olönsam kärnkraft stängs i förtid (Svenska Dagbladet Näringsliv, 29 April 2015,

Peter Akinder: Vattenfall stänger reaktorer (op ed piece, Östra Småland/Nyheterna, 29 April 2015),

Ökad press på politikerna (Östra Småland/Nyheterna, 29 April 2015)

More power from Ringhals 4

The decision to raise the productivity of a 'middle-aged' reactor like R4 by 18% was long in the making. Vattenfall applied for permission in 2007; the regulator gave permission in February of this year. Whereas the past government was favorable all along, several members of the engineering community and the regulatory authority expressed some concern about possibly damaging stress to aging reactor components (valves, etc.).

In the interval, R4's steam generators and pressurizer have been replaced. Ny Teknik, the leading Swedish technical newspaper, reports that roughly 20 billion SEK (€2.1b, US$2.4b) have been invested in modernizing the four reactors at Ringhals over the past 10 years.

If R4 passes all the tests, to be conducted this year, sometime in 2016 it will start to contribute an extra 1.3 terrawatt-hours per annum, assuming trouble-free operation.

In this context it might be mentioned that Oskarshamn 3 (BWR, 1985) has just completed a similar test period and came online in January. Capacity there is now 1450 MW.

Source: 4 Feb 2015,

'Total stop' for new nuclear build in Sweden

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén − WISE Sweden


Vattenfall, the state-owned Swedish power company, announced on January 23 that it has terminated all work to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors in Sweden. The company has also withdrawn its application for a permit for new nuclear build, submitted in 2012.

In 2012, the company made it clear that the application did not necessarily mean that they intended to build a new reactor, only that they wanted to assess the prospects of launching a new generation of reactors. In order to make a full assessment, they needed to initiate a process within the regulatory agency, SSM (Swedish Nuclear Safety Authority). Hence the application.

Since then, Vattenfall has put millions into the project. But the January 23 announcement definitely has a ring of finality. The unit dedicated to developing new reactors has been disbanded. Some 40 Vattenfall employees are affected; some will be transferred to other positions, some are being offered retirement. "No one at Vattenfall will be working with New Build," said Mats Lideborn, who headed the unit, in response to a direct question. 

The withdrawal of the application has an impact on the regulator, as well; 15 or more employees assigned to deal with Vattenfall's application now face transfer or retirement.

On January 15, only days before these steps were made public, Vattenfall announced a major reorganisation at group company level. The company will henceforth be organised according to function: Heat, Wind, Distribution, Generation, etc. The company's controversial lignite operations in eastern Germany have been carved out to form an independent unit, with the intention of sale in the coming year (at the urging of the new Board of Directors).

CEO Magnus Hall described the changes as strategic: "Vattenfall operates in a challenging market climate, where cost-effectivness and sustainability are key to success. ... A first step is to establish an overarching strategy. Some elements of that strategy are already clear: we need to defend our position as a European company and to develop our portfolio so that we can offer our customers more sustainable solutions. We shall also produce electricity with a focus on emissions-free or emissions-efficient solutions."

Directive or 'reality check'?

Initial press reports suggest that the new government ordered the change of course. In September 2014, Minister of Environment and Sustainability, Åsa Romson (Green Party), announced that the government would be exercising its ownership to guide Vattenfall away from nuclear power and toward sustainable energy sources. But within 24 hours her statement was qualified – not to say countermanded – by PM Staffan Löfven (Social Democrat), who stated that the future of nuclear power would be decided by a multi-stakeholder Energy Commission (see Nuclear Monitor #793).

That Commission has yet to be appointed. Yet, Vattenfall has taken these drastic steps.

It is possible, even likely, that Vattenfall instead may be responding to its own viability studies. Sweden has the benefit of plentiful hydroelectric power. The country's base-load is covered. And the market for electricity is rapidly changing. The per-kWh cost of renewables – wind power in particular – is falling, which is encouraging many actors to 'grow their own'. Several hangar-type store chains, IKEA among them, have announced plans to become energy self-sufficient through energy efficiency measures and installing rooftop photovoltaic. Cheaper renewable capacity means that spikes in electricity prices are nowhere near as sharp as they were only a year or two ago, and there is no sign that prices will rise again.

Vattenfall, to be sure, is itself a major actor in the wind power sector, with several large-scale farms in different parts of Sweden. In November 2014, the company boasted investments in wind power amounting to SEK 40 billion (€4.3b; US$4.8b) over the past six years and a doubling of its wind power production since 2011. Investments of an additional SEK 11 billion in Sweden and Europe overall are slated for the coming four years. The simple reason is that wind power is profitable.

Wind power accounts for roughly 7% of Sweden's electricity production (13 terrawatt-hours) today, but the share is steadily growing. Vattenfall's press release adds: "Our growth objectives for renewable electricity production stand firm, despite the tougher times that Vattenfall and the energy sector as a whole face today."

In August 2014, Mikael Oldenberg – formerly a Conservative politician, now Executive Director of Svenska Kraftnät, the national distribution utility − called nuclear new build "utopian". "There is currently no rational basis for investing in new nuclear capacity," Oldenberg wrote. Perhaps Vattenfall has simply come to the same conclusion.


Ci Holmgren: "Total stopp för kärnkraft", Sveriges Radio/P1 (Eko newscast, 23 Jan 2015)
L A Karlberg: "Stopp för kärnkraft ger SSM personalproblem", Ny Teknik (23 Jan 2015)
Vattenfall: Ny organisation för Vattenfalls framtida strategi (press release, 15 Jan 2015)
Jan Nylander: "Vattenfall stoppar planer för ny kärnkraft", Sveriges Television (27 Nov 2014)
Vattenfall: Vattenfall bygger ny vindkraftpark för en halv miljard (press release, 7 Nov 2014)

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

UK: Report outlines unreliability of aging nuclear reactors

The UK Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) published a report on December 9 which details the unreliability of the UK's aging nuclear power stations.
The report, written by NFLA Policy Advisor Pete Roche, found that in the three years from 2012−2014, 62 outages were reported, over three-quarters of which were unplanned. These reported outages do not include routine refuelling closures. The list of outages is not comprehensive as EDF Energy does not provide comprehensive data on reactor performance.

At its lowest point, on 20 November 2014, less than half (43%) of UK nuclear power capacity was available due to shutdowns. Seven out of 15 reactors were offline.

Unplanned shutdowns cause serious problems for electricity supply regulation and planning. A major likely reason for poor performance is that most reactors are over 30 years old and past their use-by dates, some by considerable margins. The increasingly decrepit state of UK nuclear power stations also presents a serious safety issue. UK nuclear regulatory agencies are aware of the continual reduction in safety margins resulting from graphite loss and crumbling in the moderators of AGR reactors.

Nuclear Free Local Authorities, 9 Dec 2014, 'NFLA concerns over the reliability of aging nuclear reactors in the UK',


International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons

On December 8−9, over 1000 people flocked into the grand ballroom of Holfsburg Palace, Vienna, to consider the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. Delegations representing 158 nations were present, as well as nuclear survivors, civil society, media, and researchers.

This was the third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons − the first was in Norway in 2013, the second in Mexico in February 2014. The latest conference is intended to 'jump-start' the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) deliberations at the UN in May 2015 with a call to proceed with complete disarmament in a global, legally binding form.

The meeting resulted in a vehicle for nations to "sign on" to the Austrian Pledge. This document calls on parties to the NPT to renew their commitments under that treaty and to close any gaps that undermines prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

The Austrian Pledge contains this remarkable provision: "Austria calls on all nuclear weapons possessor states to take concrete interim measures to reduce the risk of nuclear weapon detonations, including reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons and moving nuclear weapons away from deployment into storage, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines and rapid reductions of all types of nuclear weapons ..."

This provision was all the more remarkable since, for the first time, nuclear weapons states were present: the US and Britain, both of which made statements to the assembly confirming that they were not listening.

Invited to speak during the session on the Medical Consequences of Using Nuclear Weapons, I originally declined since my work has focused on energy and the environment, not the military side of nuclear. The invite was made more precise by Ambassador Alexander Kmentt: please speak on the disproportionate impact of radiation on girls and women. Such a direct invitation offered an opportunity to share information that is under-reported.

The fact that atomic bombs were dropped on two cities in Japan almost 80 years ago is no longer being widely taught. Most people don't know that a long-term study was initiated by the US to count the cancers in the survivors. Among those who were under five years old in 1945, for every boy who got cancer at some point in their lives, two girls got cancer.

The room was full of people, including Hibakusha from Japan, survivors from the US tests in the Marshall Islands, from the British tests in Australia, and from Utah (downwind of the Nevada Test Site). It was a great place to share this information.

Information on Atomic Radiation and Harm to Women is posted at:

− Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (US)


Sweden: Regulator calls for hike in nuclear waste fees

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has recommended yet another increase in the per kWh-fee on nuclear power to cover predicted costs of decommissioning reactors and the processing and storage of nuclear waste. The proposal raises the fee from an average SEK 0.022/kWh to around 0.040/kWh (US 0.5 c/kWh).

Swedish law requires the industry-owned nuclear waste management company SKB to submit an estimate of projected costs to SSM at three-year intervals. After examining the estimate and consulting other sources, SSM submits its recommendation to the government, which then sets the fee for the next period, in this case 2015−2017.

Over the past couple of terms, SSM's estimates have differed substantially from those of the industry's nuclear waste company. This time, SSM finds that SKB's estimate is short by at least SEK 11 billion (US$1.44, €1.16b). SSM bases its conclusion on a study commissioned from the National Institute of Economic Research (a state body). The conclusion is also seconded by the National Council for Nuclear Waste, an academic reference group, and the National Debt Office, whose comments call for greater transparency as to how SKB arrived at its estimates.

Principal differences concern the estimated future cost of goods and services relating to decommissioning and waste storage, and the cost of necessary reinvestments in existing waste management facilities. SSM states that SKB underestimates cost rises by as much as 12%. Sagging financial returns accruing to the Nuclear Waste Fund – a consequence of the broader economic downturn – also contribute to the gap.

Another discrepancy is that SKB bases its calculations on reactor lifetimes of 50-60 years, yet the Financing Ordinance stipulates that a lifetime of 40 years be used. The advantage from the industry's point of view is obvious: positing a 20−50% longer period of production raises the total sum deposited into the Waste Fund, thereby permitting a lower fee.

The law provides that SSM may, "should circumstances so demand," reject the industry's prognosis and fix an interim fee until satisfactory estimates are on the table. SSM is doing just that. The current recommendation will be for 2015 only, and SKB has been instructed to produce a revised estimate within the next few months.

Shortly after the general election in September 2014, the new government stated as an overall principle that nuclear energy should cover a greater share of its costs to society – which suggests that SSM's proposals would be favourably received.

But there is a catch. The government – a minority coalition – failed to gain parliamentary approval of its budget in December and has announced new elections for March 2015. A change of government before the proposal can be considered is likely, and no one can say what the political constellation after the elections will be.

− Charly Hultén / WISE Sweden


Greenland: Pro-uranium coalition forms government

The Inuit Ataqatigiit party was expected to win Greenland's November 28 election, after which it would call a referendum on the controversial issue of uranium mining.

However the pro-uranium Siumut party narrowly won the most votes and has formed a coalition with two other pro-uranium parties − Atassut and Demokraatic. The three parties hold a combined 17 seats in the new parliament while two anti-uranium parties − Inuit Ataqatigiit and Partii Naleraq − hold 14 seats.

Just before the election, a poll showed that 71% of Greenlanders want a national referendum on whether to reinstate the uranium ban. Inuit Ataqatigiit and Partii Naleraq had called for a referendum.

Before the election, former Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond announced in Parliament that if a mining permit was issued to the Australian mining company Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd. for the Kvanefjeld uranium / rare earths project, a referendum on the project would be held in southern Greenland. That promise might still be kept ... or it might not.

The only uranium project that might be developed in the foreseeable future is the Kvanefjeld project. A feasibility study is due for completion in 2015. It could take 2−3 years before environmental assessment processes are complete.


US blocks international nuclear safety initiatives

The US was exposed at an international meeting of parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety on December 4.1 A European proposal would have led to greater efforts to prevent accidents and, should they occur, mitigate the effects of radioactive contamination. The proposal would likely have forced upgrades at existing plants.

Russia scaled back its opposition to European proposals, leaving the US as the main dissenter. Russia was prepared to endorse some of the European proposals though it balked at accepting proposals that would require retrofits of old reactors.

Defending their indefensible position, US diplomats said their opposition to the European initiative was driven by concern that an attempt to amend the convention could weaken it, because some governments would be slow to ratify changes.

Former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Victor Gilinsky told Bloomberg: "People in the U.S. don't realize that in many ways our nuclear safety standards lag behind those in Europe. The German and French containment structures are generally more formidable than ours and those reactors generally have more protection systems."1

Created in response to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the Convention on Nuclear Safety has struggled to improve safety standards. The group's secrecy has often undermined its objectives. A former French envoy, Jean-Pierre Clausner, said that the opacity of the organisation was "shocking" according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request.2



South Africa and Russia: 'Pay More for Nuclear' reports

Earthlife Africa has commissioned and released four significant reports in the second half of 2014 in a series titled 'Pay More for Nuclear'. The first report is titled 'Nuclear Technology Options for South Africa'. Prof. Steve Thomas writes: "South Africa's call for tenders for nuclear power plants [in 2008] failed because the costs were high and because the requirements to obtain funding were not politically acceptable. The response to this failure seemed to be that pursuing a wider range of technical options and partners would produce a cheaper and more readily financed offer. The new options mooted include reactors from Korea, China and Russia. The perception that these options will be cheaper is likely to be an illusion. In addition, the designs are unproven and raise serious issues of verifying that they meet the required safety standards."

The second report is titled 'Funding Nuclear Decommissioning – Lessons for South Africa'. Thomas writes: "Current policy and practice on funding nuclear power plant decommissioning in South Africa lags far behind international best practice. It risks bequeathing future generations with a hazardous and expensive task that will have to be paid for by future taxpayers."

The third report is titled 'What Does It Take To Finance New Nuclear Power Plants?'. Thomas writes: "Unless the South African government is prepared to require electricity consumers to sign what will effectively be a blank cheque to the developers of a nuclear power the current attempt to order nuclear power plants for South Africa will fail again and several more years will have been wasted pursuing an option, nuclear power, that is not financeable."

The fourth report is titled 'Russian Nuclear Industry Overview'. Report author Vladimir Slivyak covers problems with ageing reactors, planned new reactors, Russia's fast breeder program, its reactor export program, and inadequate nuclear waste and decommissioning programs. Of particular interest is the section on corruption in the Russian nuclear industry, and the role of NGOs Ecodefense and Transparency International in exposing that corruption.

The four 'Pay More for Nuclear' reports are posted at: