Vattenfall sees challenging but promising year ahead

06 March 2017

Vattenfall's nuclear power plants performed well in 2016, with a high level of availability and stable generation, according to Torbjörn Wahlborg, head of generation at the Swedish utility. "But 2017 can be an even better year if we continue to enhance our working methods and avoid a number of simple operational errors which caused stoppages last year," he said.

In an interview published on Vattenfall's website on 2 March, Wahlborg said, "We are in a tough position with low long-term electricity prices, excess capacity and investment requirements, but we have to accept and work towards the future." He added, "There is also good news; working actively with costs like this produces results."

He said the company aims to reduce the average generation cost for nuclear power from just over 30 öre per kilowatt-hour in 2014/15 to 19 öre/kWh by 2021. "It is a big ask, but we will be helped by the fact the energy tax is going to be removed, which is equivalent to an average of 6-7 öre/kWh," he said. "We'll have to manage the rest ourselves, and currently all operations are focused on raising their efficiency and with it their profitability."

A framework agreement announced last June by the coalition government will see Sweden's tax on installed nuclear generating capacity, introduced in 2000, phased out over two years. The agreement also allows for the construction of up to 10 new nuclear reactors at existing sites, to replace plants as they retire. However, it also sets 2040 as the date at which Sweden should have a 100% renewable electricity system.

"Our path towards an efficient phase out of nuclear power is important; it also enables us to create opportunities for long-term operation of our other reactors," Wahlborg said. "The fact is we want to operate our 1980s reactors a good way into the 2040s.

"We are also planning for an effective decommissioning of Ringhals 1 and 2, at the same time as we want to run Ringhals 3 and 4 for 60 years," he said. Vattenfall's reactors at Forsmark and Ringhals have already undergone a comprehensive modernisation program to allow them to operate until the mid-2040s. However, Wahlborg said Vattenfall is planning to make an investment decision regarding independent core cooling later this year. In October 2014, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority said all operating Swedish reactors must have such systems in place by 2020.

Nuclear power is a "prerequisite" for an effective energy transition, Wahlborg said. "I am confident that this is something the rest of the world will increasingly come round to. At the same time our nuclear power has to produce a commercial return. We are facing decades of interesting, challenging and exciting work, and we have to inform the labour market of this."

He noted both hydro and nuclear power have very low carbon dioxide emissions in their generation. "We should be proud of these energy sources' environmental performance," Wahlborg said. "Since 2010 our nuclear power operation has more than halved its already low CO2 emissions over its life-cycle as a whole."

He said Vattenfall's nuclear fuel suppliers are "continuously working on their climate impact" and are introducing new energy-efficient modes of production. "We check that our suppliers are working in an environmentally friendly way," he said. "And that also applies to work environment issues."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News