New nuclear power plants will probably play a part in Sweden's long-term energy future, after the coalition government moved to scrap old anti-nuclear policies.
Sweden is the latest European country to change its mind about nuclear power.
UK policy has gone from neglect to wholehearted support since 2005, Italy announced a pro-nuclear change of heart in 2008 and the Netherlands is likely to adopt a pro-nuclear position next year. Belgium, Germany and Spain remain the only countries in the world that use nuclear power but wish to shut it down.
The question of nuclear power is expected to be a major issue in the German general election this September: The 'optimised' use of nuclear power as an 'important transition technology' and a 'cornerstone of energy supply' was identified as a long-term action item for Germany in a report from the ministry of economics and technology released today.
'The climate issue is now in focus, and nuclear power will thus remain an important part of Swedish electricity production for the foreseeable future', said the policy document released today. This was part of what the government called a 'long-term, sustainable energy and climate policy' with the vision of an efficient and sustainable Sweden by 2050 with no net emissions of greenhouse gases.
A piece of legislation in 1980 set 2010 as the shutdown date for all the country's nuclear power plants, but this was put aside by Christian Democrat policy in March 2007. The coalition government, which also includes Conservatives, and Liberals then settled on a line that no new reactors could be planned during their first term. That principle too was thrown out today.
The government said it is to return to the Riksdag (parliament) with a proposal to abolish the act which banned construction of new nuclear reactors. Today it said that 'Permission must be given to gradually replace the existing reactors as they reach the end of their economic life.' However, 'state aid for nuclear power, in the form of direct or indirect subsidies, cannot be expected.'
Sweden has a strong nuclear sector which responded to the ban on new reactors by upgrading most of the existing ones. When fully completed, the resulting national nuclear capacity boost will reach over 1150 MWe - about the same as a new reactor could have provided. This figure compares to the 1200 MWe in nuclear generation lost by the early closure of the two Barsebäck reactors in 2004 and 2005, which was forced by Social Democrats.
OKG, which owns the Oskarshamn power plant and is part of the EOn group, said today it was ready for the challenge of new nuclear should its owners choose to pursue it. The company noted that Oskarshamn has space for three new reactors and the government's move gives far greater certainty for the long-term future of the plant. OKG's main priority, it said, would remain the maintenance of their current three-unit nuclear fleet so that each can operate for 60 years.
The current electricity sector in Sweden is dominated by two forms of generation - hydro power at up to 50% and nuclear power at 45%. Expansion of both these low carbon forms was limited by legislation that protected undeveloped rivers and prohibited new reactors. Under the new policy restrictions on nationally protected rivers will stay, but new reactors will be allowed and a third 'significant' sector will be developed from 'cogeneration, wind and other renewable power'.
Wind power will be supported by a simplification in planning processes and follow European directives by allowing 'other countries to finance investment in renewable electricity production.'