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Sweden: phase-out removed; new-build unlikely

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Johan Swahn. Director MKG - Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review

On Thursday February 5, the Swedish Government announced its new energy and climate policy. Both in Sweden and around the world focus of the media was that Sweden is reversing the policy of phasing out nuclear power. The decision appeared sudden and came to many as a shock. But what really happened? And how likely is it that Sweden will build new nuclear power?

The Swedish Government is a coalition of four parties with widely different views on nuclear power. The Liberals (Folkpartiet) have for a number of years had a pro nuclear agenda. The Center Party on the other hand is strongly anti-nuclear and has been working together with the Social Democrats and the Left Party with the phase-out of nuclear power. The Conservatives (Moderaterna) have leant towards nuclear but understand that new nuclear is not economical. The Christian Democrats are much more against than for.

Since over a year the Government has been pressed to reach an agreement on a joint energy and climate agenda. It is vital for the Government that there is a common policy before the Swedish chairmanship of EU starts in July. Sweden is to lead the EU in the important negotiations at the Copenhagen climate conference in the autumn.

In the beginning of February the issue had become critical. The Liberals had made an ultimatum that nuclear power had to be in the policy. In order to get a strong policy paper with a focus on renewable energy and efficiency measures the Christian Democrats and the Center Party had to give with great convulsions in both parties. A yearlong huge publicity campaign by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise for nuclear power made the decision easier. There is presently an unfortunate and false general perception in Sweden that nuclear power is necessary to combat climate change.

But the deal that was brokered, and still needs parliamentary approval, is not pro-nuclear. It is focused on a large-scale effort to support renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. As an example Sweden's wind power supply is to increase from 2 to 30 TWh until 2020. This represents about half the present nuclear power supply. It this policy was continued Swedish wind power would be bigger than nuclear power by 2030. And all this energy would part of an enormous overcapacity. The nuclear power plants are at the same time being upgraded and their lifetimes are extended into the 2030s. And the electricity use in Sweden is expected to fall due to efficiency measures.

But the legal ban on building new nuclear power reactors will be removed as will the  still-existing phase-out law that the Centre Party had so far refused to remove. But the total number of reactors cannot be more than the ten that exist today. They cannot be constructed on other sites than the three now used (Forsmark, Ringhals and Oskarshamn). Thus no reactors can be built on the Barsebäck site near Denmark where the two reactors that have been phased out used to be. No state support can be given to nuclear power And as the nuclear industry plans to keep the present reactors until the 2030s nothing will happen for a very long time with regards to Swedish nuclear new-build. All other statements are just happy-talk, wishful thinking or propaganda. In the Parliament only the Liberal Party is in support of new-build.

The Government's new policy has forced the three opposition parties to show their cards. The Social Democrats, Left Party and Greens, who hold a relatively large but shrinking lead in the polls, have announced a common policy of not supporting new nuclear power. They will examine the possibility of continuing the phase-out if they win the elections in 2010.

Suddenly there is a nuclear divide in Swedish politics. Nuclear power is debated strongly and the media interest is high. Nuclear power may become an election issue at the next elections in September 2010. Opinion polls have been showing a clear lead for the opposition. How the Government's new nuclear policy will affect the public opinion remains to be seen.

Will we see new Swedish nuclear reactors being built in the 2030s? It's very unlikely. The Swedish mainstream politics and general public prefer renewable energy and energy efficiency. Which are real today.

Document by the Swedish Government: "A sustainable energy and climate policy for the environment, competitiveness and long-term stability"