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Sweden is backing down on its commitment to phase out all its nuclear power capacity by 2010. In a long awaited report, released December 18, the parliament's energy commission failed to present a schedule for shutting down the country's 13 nuclear reactors which supply half the country's electricity.

The object of the commission was to straighten out the political conflicts on energy policy which have fiercely divided the country for a number of years. Back in 1980 the Swedish public voted for the closure of all nuclear plant, with 2010 later set by parliament as the deadline. But the commission's final report was a bitter disappointing to the anti nuclear lobby, with no plans to carry out the public's will and a tacit compliance with the wishes of some politicians to postpone the 2010 date. According to the report, the cost of electricity in Sweden would rise by 50% if this deadline was adhered to.

Despite the production of thousands of words, the commission failed to reach any unanimous conclusion and made no definitive policy statements. The closest to a decision was an ambiguously formed statement referring to the closing of one reactor within the current three year parliamentary period. The meaning of this statement already became a matter of dispute between the Liberals and the Social Democrats at the first press conference announcing the report.

Wind beats prognosis

Currently, electricity demand in Sweden not met by nuclear comes from hydro. According to the commission, just 7% of the country's electricity can be produced by new renewables by 2010. For wind power the commission's prognosis is based on an analysis by energy agency Nutek suggesting no more than 0.2 TWh by the year 2005. But this production of electricity from wind turbines will already be reached by the end of 1996, supplied by projects now running or in the pipeline.

Despite its failings, there are some policy proposals in the report which could level the market for renewables. One is for the introduction of a progressive tax on nuclear power, to increase as the reactors age. Such a tax would raise the cost of nuclear power progressively until it finally gets too expensive, forcing the utilities to close their reactors on economic grounds and sparing political decisions likely to be unpopular with the business world. Income from the nuclear tax, it is further proposed, could be used to create an energy fund for investment in new power plant and to increase efficiency.

Whether these proposals are adopted remains decidedly uncertain. Enthusiasm for rocking the energy status quo is not evident in the Swedish establishment. Commenting on the report, Lennart Ericsson, power analyst at Sweden's Handelsbanken, said of renewables: "It's doubtful whether they will be able to extend hydro power further and you can forget about wind power," according to a report from Reuters news agency.

The energy commission's report will now be discussed by parliament and the government is expected to work out a proposition for a new energy policy to be announced in the autumn.

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