Viewpoint: Sweden must reconsider its nuclear policy

26 February 2021

Once a poster child for environmentalism, Sweden has now embarked on a retroactive and harmful journey, write Sama Bilbao y Léon, director general, and John Lindberg, public affairs manager, at World Nuclear Association. The following is a translation from Swedish of their article Sverige bör ompröva sin kärnkraftspolitik published by Dagens Industri on 18 February.

Sama Bilbao y León and John Lindberg (Image: World Nuclear Association)

"Until a couple of years ago, Sweden had one of the world's more boring electricity systems - it was reliable, had a low environmental impact and generated large amounts of cheap electricity for both households and industry. This helped Swedish companies remain globally competitive, ensured that a healthy environment could be passed on to future generations, and its people generally did not have to worry whether their electrical appliances worked. Sweden's industries did not have to shut down their production because electricity was too expensive. Sweden did not have to import large amounts of coal power from Germany, Denmark and Poland.

That was how things used to be.

Until very recently, Sweden was revered for its engineering skills, its ingenuity and daring to go its own way. By the mid-1980s, this small country on the outskirts of northern Europe, had proved to the world that it was possible to free itself from fossil fuels for electricity production in less than a decade. One of the world's cheapest and cleanest electricity systems was delivered, at the same time as Swedish life improved without sacrificing the environment. Sustainable development was still in its infancy when Sweden took the lead and solved the mystery that continues to perplex a large part of the world: the economic, social and environmentally sustainable phase out of fossil fuels. This Swedish 'miracle' is an admirable, but also often forgotten, story of human ingenuity, and it was the atom that was the core of this miracle.

While some countries, such as Norway and Iceland, have been blessed with great rivers or access to the earth's interior, the vast majority have had to find other solutions to gain access to electricity, perhaps the most important of human inventions. Historically, this has usually meant burning things - be it wood, coal, oil or fossil gas. Combustion, which is simple and often cheap, has over the past 150 years brought with it a number of major burdens, from widespread environmental degradation and countless deaths due to air pollution, to the ever-increasing existential threat of climate change. Nuclear power gave us the opportunity to enjoy a modern lifestyle without having to enter into a Faustian bargain with fossil fuels.

Tragically, Sweden has slowly but surely torn down the structure of what in many ways gives it a competitive advantage in the global arena. After years of punitive taxation and political wrangling, four nuclear reactors have been subjected to unnecessary and politically motivated closures in less than five years - and we are now seeing the effects. With the retirement of Ringhals 1 and the arrival of what used to be a normal Swedish winter, the country's electricity system is coming away at the seams. The southern regions, which previously housed six more reactors, are now forced to import fossil-based electricity - coal from Poland and Denmark, and Russian gas fired in Germany. What would happen if a real wolf winter came? You can only abuse an electrical system to a certain limit before it starts to fall apart, and Sweden is at the crossroads.

While Sweden and the western world may be able to afford to spend countless billions on renewable energy sources - and its constant ally, fossil gas - it is obvious that the vast majority cannot. Sweden should be a leader once again and show the world how to phase out fossil fuels in a responsible way with solutions that do not leave half of the world's population behind.

The stark reality is that there are still many hundreds of millions of people who do not have any access to electricity, with millions dying every year because of air pollution caused by burning dirty fuels.

The question is: Who would not want to build a simpler electricity system, based on reactors that can very well be in operation for 80-100 years, producing enormous amounts of electricity around the clock and regardless of the weather, at a price we can afford to ensure the wellbeing of the global population, and from an industry that responsibly manages its waste, unlike all other electricity producers? Most reports from distinguished analysts from, for example, the International Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, have repeatedly shown that nuclear power meets these criteria.

Sweden has in many ways been a pioneer for critical issues at a global level - be it about the environment, women's rights or poverty reduction. We hope that Sweden will not abdicate the moral leadership it has demonstrated, especially not in a year like this, when everyone's future is at stake. We call on the Swedish government to reconsider its nuclear policy and confirm what science has been saying for decades - nuclear power has not only made Sweden a very successful country, but also that nuclear power can add enormous value to every part of the planet.

For the world to continue to look favourably on Sweden, the choices it makes in the coming years will be of the utmost importance."

The original article is here.