The ball gets rolling in Sweden

25 January 2010

New nuclear is on the Swedish agenda with moves towards revised legislation and regulatory support for new build applications. Hans Blix told a seminar he was 'absolutely convinced' of the need for new reactors.

A meeting in Stockholm on 21 January, organised by the power utility research organisation, Elforsk, heard from a range of players in the new environment for Swedish atomic energy.


Regulatory law expert Ingvar Persson has been tasked with reviewing nuclear legislation, and in particular, suggesting new language to permit the construction of new reactors - banned since a 1980 referendum. He is also reviewing the status of nuclear liability in Sweden, with the likely result of unlimited liability for plant owners in the event of an accident. The government is expected to propose its legal changes on 22 March with the aim of bringing the new legislation into force by 1 July.


Parallel work is underway at the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten, SSM), which this month began working on a proposal for a licensing process for new reactors. SSM head Fredrik Hassel said the system could be ready for government approval by February 2011 with spring 2013 as the earliest possible time to begin reviewing an application. He warned that this required financial investment from the government as well as the recruitment of about 60 more staff.


The moves come after last year's turnaround on nuclear policy in the name of climate change. 'The climate issue is now in focus,' wrote the coalition government in February 2009, 'and nuclear power will thus remain an important part of Swedish electricity production for the forseeable future.' That policy statement, after concessions from the Centre Party, heralded the beginning of the end of phase-out conditions.


Hans Blix, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, spoke at the seminar. 'We do need new reactors in Sweden,' he said, 'I am absolutely convinced of that.' Blix noted the financial gain France has experienced by exporting huge volumes of power to neighbours that had taken anti-nuclear stances - Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain. He said Sweden could also become a regional power exporter, bringing income while helping to reduce emissions in Germany and Denmark.


Sweden already uses nuclear power from ten reactors for over 40% of electricity, with an even larger proportion coming from large hydro and only a small amount from fossil fuels. While new reactors were banned Swedish operators concentrated on improving the perfomance and longevity of existing ones with the result that new units may result in surplus of power.


A new unit at Oskarshamn would be one possible new-build project and the region's mayor, Peter Wretlund, welcomed the idea. However, Lennart Fredenberg of Oskarshamn owner EOn remained very cautious. He said that new build would be only one option to eventually replace Oskarshamn 1, which began operation in 1972 and is Sweden's oldest reactor. However, Swedish reactors are allowed to continue operating as long as they are within safety requirements and it is EOn's policy to continuously modernise its reactors until no longer economically viable. In the meantime EOn's focus in Scandinavian new build remains the Fennovoima's project, which has progressed to the point of applying to the government for a decision in principle.


Reporting by Daniel Westlén
for World Nuclear News