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Sweden

Sweden

New era of safer energy taking shape, date finally set for start of nuclear plant closures in Sweden

The Swedish government has presented a new plan for phasing out the country's use of nuclear power. The plan does away with the final deadline for closure of all nuclear power plant--previously set at 2010--but importantly promises to shut down the first of the country's reactors before July 1, 1998. With a new plan now agreed upon, wind energy development should start in earnest.

After a year of political wrangling the Swedish government has at last presented a new plan for phasing out the country's use of nuclear power. The plan does away with the final deadline for closure of all nuclear power plant -- previously set at 2010 -- but importantly promises to shut down the first of the country's reactors before July 1, 1998.

The wind market in Sweden has lain dormant for months, waiting for the politicians to agree on how best to honour the people's demand of two decades ago that nuclear power be scrapped. With a new plan now agreed upon, wind energy development should start in earnest. If the utilities are right about their dire warnings of massive increases in the price of electricity as nuclear is phased out, wind power will have a bright future in Sweden.

Renewable energy, however, is hardly mentioned in the new policy statement. The main focus will be on building new combined heat and power plants based on biomass fuel, mainly for district heating. Wind power gets a mention, but details of how a wind market will be catalysed have not been decided and await the publication of a energy green paper, due for presentation in parliament last month.

A qualified guess on the shape of a wind programme would include a new period of investment subsidies, but these would be reduced from the 35% used so far, probably to around 15-20%. Offshore wind energy development is likely to get a budget too, for a demonstration project as well as further research and development.

Concession

The first of the Sweden's 12 nuclear reactors to be closed down is at the controversial Barsebäck facility across the water from Copenhagen. The proximity of a 20-year-old nuclear facility to Denmark's capital city has long caused friction. Now Barsebäck's first block will close by July of next year and the second before July 2001.

After almost a year of intense and dramatic negotiations, the minister of industry and trade, Anders Sundström, reached this agreement with representatives of two other parties, enough to get it through parliament. The setting of a date for the closure of the first two reactors required a significant concession though: the abolishment of the long standing 2010 deadline.

The decision to start with Barsebäck was no big surprise. Not only is it getting old, but the reactors are small compared to others in Sweden, each producing about 4 TWh a year. The reactor to be shut down next year produced some 3% of the total electric power in Sweden in 1996.

In Sweden the Conservative press has responded with horror, claiming the decision will increase unemployment and that increased use of fossil fuels will harm the environment. The most sensible comment has come from energy authority Nutek, which points out that the closure of one reactor will have only a marginal affect and that Sweden has an over supply of electric power.

Barsebäck, however, is owned by a private corporation, Sydkraft AB, which will require compensation from the state. Such negotiations could take years, but Sydkraft's demand for access to electricity generated by the state owned reactors at Ringhals caused a sharp rise in its shares: investors expect the corporation to strike a good deal.

An important part of the agreement concerns the development of new sources of supply to replace the lost production at Barsebäck. This programme will cost some SKK 9 billion over a seven year period and allows for the development of replacement capacity, or demand side savings. These include the conversion of electrically heated houses to other energy sources. Some 20 TWh a year is used for heating private houses. Sweden is unique in this respect. The use of electricity for heating came about as a result of the huge surplus in generating capacity when all 12 nuclear reactors came on line in the early 1980s. The utilities coped with the surplus by offering homeowners low priced electricity for heating.

There are cynics not convinced by the new turn of events. Political decisions to phase out nuclear power have been made before by the minority Social Democratic government, only to be later withdrawn. Its current deal with the Socialists and the centre party in Sweden has much to do with gaining their support. It would seem that political power is a deal more important to the Social Democrats than nuclear power.

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