Vattenfall board approves Forsmark upgrades

16 June 2016

Swedish utility Vattenfall has decided to invest in safety upgrades to enable the three reactors at the Forsmark plant to continue operating beyond 2020. The decision follows the government's announcement last week that it will abolish a tax on nuclear power.

Forsmark units 1-3 - 460 (Vattenfall)
The three units at Forsmark (Image: Vattenfall)

A variable production tax on nuclear power introduced in Sweden in 1984 was replaced by a tax on installed capacity in 2000. Since its introduction, this tax has gradually increased and currently stands at about 7 öre (0.8 US cents) per kilowatt-hour. Swedish utilities, which claimed that, combined with low electricity prices, the tax made their reactor operations unprofitable, had sought redress against the tax through the courts. However, the European Court of Justice ruled last October that Sweden could continue to tax nuclear power, deciding the tax is a national, rather than European Commission, matter.

A framework agreement announced on 10 June by the coalition government will now see the tax phased out over two years. It also allows for the construction of up to ten new nuclear reactors at existing sites, to replace plants as they retire.

Vattenfall's reactors at Forsmark and Ringhals have already undergone a comprehensive modernization program to allow them to operate until the mid-2040s. However, in October 2014, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority said by 2020 all operating Swedish reactors must have a "robust permanent installation that includes power supply and systems for pumping of water and an external water source independent of those used in existing emergency cooling systems". This requires engineering deep within the reactor building and potentially its primary coolant circuit.

Yesterday, Vattenfall announced that its board of directors had taken the decision to install independent core cooling at the three boiling water reactors at Forsmark, in which it holds a 66% stake.

However, the final decision to proceed with the upgrade must be made by the board of Forsmark Kraftgrupp AB, which operates the plant on behalf of Vattenfall and minority owners EOn and Mellansvensk Kraftgrupp, with stakes of 8.5% and 25.5%, respectively.

Torbjörn Wahlborg, head of generation at Vattenfall and chairman of the board of Forsmark Kraftgrupp AB, said: "The safety upgrades will be implemented in parallel with a program for cost and efficiency improvements with the goal to meet competitive market conditions. Following this upgrade, the reactors will be able to generate electricity into the 2040s."

Vattenfall noted the project to install independent core cooling in all three reactors at Forsmark "will take several years and will be planned not to impact energy production".

Vattenfall CEO Magnus Hall said in a separate statement, "One prerequisite for us being able to take any sort of position at all on whether to continue investing in nuclear power, including the measures to improve safety in independent core cooling, which can't actually be recouped in any other way than through being able to run the reactors, was that the nuclear power tax would be removed."

The company said a decision on whether to install independent core cooling at units 3 and 4 of the Ringhals plant - in which it owns a 70.4% stake - will be taken in early 2017.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News