Vattenfall applies to replace reactors

01 August 2012

Swedish utility Vattenfall has submitted an application to the country's regulator concerning the replacement of up to two of its existing nuclear power reactors with new ones. However, a decision on whether to proceed with the new units is several years away.

Vattenfall expects some 20 TWh of nuclear electricity production by older Swedish nuclear plants to be retired between 2025 and 2035. The loss of such a significant portion of the country's generating capacity "without a replacement power source or long-term planning, could cause pricing turbulence and uncertainty on the electricity market," the company warned.

"Current regulations are such that it is only through applying for a permit for replacement reactors that Vattenfall will obtain some of the answers needed to complete a decision basis."

The company said that the submission of its application to the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) "is part of our work collecting information in order to decide on a course of action for a possible future investment in replacement reactors. Several years will be needed to prepare all documentation. Only then will there be a basis for taking a position on a possible investment." It said that a decision on whether or not to build new units could be made within ten years. The utility noted, "We are aware of, in both the short and medium-long term that it would not be possible or profitable to replace the existing reactors - only after 2025 will there be an eventual need for replacement power on the Swedish market."

Several issues will need to be addressed before any new reactors are built, Vattenfall said. These include the selection of a reactor design and a suitable site to host new units, the availability of qualified workers and having financing in place. "All these areas hold significant challenges that could mean that the investment is eventually not considered profitable or possible," according to the company. In addition, it added, there are "numerous authority decisions, as well as legal and political assessments."

A decision on whether or not to build new reactors will not only require that all environmental and safety requirements are met, Vattenfall said. It will also require demand for electricity in Sweden and other Nordic countries to "suggest that the old reactors should be replaced." The company added, "Without sufficient demand, the financial calculations will simply not hold up."

Vattenfall said that it will take several steps this year to investigate the prerequisites of building new reactors after 2025. It will also begin studies for potential sites. "By using the legislation and authority processes in place, Vattenfall can evaluate the opportunities. This investigative work promotes continuity and stability in Swedish energy supply."

"Current regulations are such that it is only through applying for a permit for replacement reactors that Vattenfall will obtain some of the answers needed to complete a decision basis," it said.

A piece of legislation in 1980 set 2010 as the shutdown date for all of Sweden'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. However, in February 2009, the coalition government moved to scrap old anti-nuclear policies and current policy is that new reactors may be built - but only as replacements for retiring ones and only at existing nuclear sites.

Lennart Carlsson, director of the SSM's department of nuclear power plant safety, said, "Constructing and commissioning a new reactor is a long process, with a review process of several steps. This requires the authorization of both the Swedish government and the land and environment court. The entire process will take 10-15 years, from our receiving the application until the date when the prospective reactor can begin operating."

SSM said that it has launched a project to draw up new regulations for the requirements that will be imposed on new reactors. It expects this work to be completed in late 2014 at the earliest. Once these regulations are completed, Vattenfall will be required to supplement its application on the basis of the new requirements. SSM would then be able to start its review of the application to ensure it complies with the necessary nuclear safety and radiation protection requirements.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News