Swedes -- sticking with the cheaper way to keep warm -- vote nuclear

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

With an eye on their jobs and their skyrocketing oil bills, Swedes have given the controversial use of nuclear energy a slight boost -- and a reprieve. By a solid margin voters in this weekhs referendum have given the green light to go ahead and double the number of Sweden's nuclear reactors from six to 12.

At the same time they also votes against a more radical proposal to phase out nuclear reactor over a 10-year period. Instead they agreed to limit future expansion of nuclear energy by approving no further reactor construction after the 12 now on line.

This could mean the end of nuclear energy in Sweden after the 25- to 30-year life span of the new reactors. At present, Sweden has the highest level of electricity generated by nuclear reactors.

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Some 58 percent voted for the limited expansion of nuclear energy in the referendum; about 39 percent favored a phase-out.

Those backing nuclear energy were apparently influenced by the arguments put forward by Swedish industry that a cutback in nuclear plants would result in a loss of jobs.

A survey of voting patterns reveals that those living close to the reactors were among their most enthusiastic supporters. This suggests that job security was perhaps a greater factor than fears of posible nuclear accidents.

Central Sweden, in particular, demonstrated that it was savvy as to how its bread is buttered. Cities and towns manning the paper, pulp, steel, aluminum, and nuclear industries voted heavily in favor of nuclear power -- knowing their jobs were already tenuous enough, given the international economic situation.

An even greater incentive for Swedes backing nuclear energy is that their country imports more oil than any other Western country.

With their nation's balance of payments plummeting into debt because of Sweden's 70-odd percent dependence on oil and disdaining coal even more than nuclear power, Sweden opte to tolerate nukes awhile longer. It is estimated that stopping nuclear power in Sweden would result in a 50 percent rise in electricity prices.

The odd alignment of political parties during the nuclear campaign was expected to make trouble for the current three-party coaolition government, especially for Prime Minister Thorbjorn Falldin. Mr. Falldin, leader of the Center Party, opposed atomic reactors along with the Communists. The conservative Moderate Party, the middle-of-the-road Liberal Party, and the leftist Social Democrats rallied for the 25-year phase-out.

Speculation had been rampant during the campaign that if the no side lost, Mr. Falldin would have to resign. The Prime Minister has stuck to his guns all the way, though, and gracefully swallowed defeat, maintaining that he can govern a nuclear Sweden.

"One must respect the outcome of the referendum in the government just as one would in the opposition in a parliamentary vote," the Prime Minister explained.

Yet almost immediately the Prime Minister warned his Liberal and Conservative coalition partners that no one could ignore the large antinuclear minority. Nearly 40 percent of the electorate had voted to take Sweden's six existing reactors out of operation by 1990.

Despite differences over the nuclear issue neither the Prime Minister's coalition partners nor the opposition are eager to push him out.

The crisscrossing of party alignments was true not only of the top brass, but also of the man in the street.

Although Mr. Falldin is now obligated to start up the seventh and eighth reactors now, few expect a whole-hearted leap of activity to get the stalled nuclear program moving again. Despite its loss, the "nej" side still garnered 38.6 percent.

"This campaign will not stop at midnight," declared Lennart Daleus, leader of the Peoples Campaign Against Atomic Power leader, when it became clear that his hopes would not outlive the referendum day.

Mr. Daleus has hinted that his movement would continue to fight in an organized fashion. Wheterh that implies forming a new political party or a demonstrating environmentalist group is not yet clear.

Again, though, Mr. Daleus faces the same splintering as the party leaders. His supporters are strange bedfellows to each other on every issue except nuclear power.

Mr. Daleus may be denied his equivalent of West Germany's Green Party if party leaders keep reactor safety and waste storage as overwhelming concerns when they go to carve out an energy program bsed on the referendum. Even Sweden's most conservative and no-strings-attached supporter of nuclear power has foreseen this.

"We have to take into consideration this large 'no' vote. We have to take into consideration their fears and emotions. We can do this by making reactors as safe as possible," said moderate leader Gosta Bohman.

At the same time Swedish voters have seen to it that Sweden will not make the history books as the first nation to shut down a highly advanced nuclear industry. At least not yet.

By and large, the workers, the middle-aged, and industrialist management unenthusiastically but firmly consented to leaving the reactors switched on.

The antinuclearists, highly visible with the preponderance of sun-colored "nej" buttons, attempted to draw the Bergmanesque Swedes out of themselves to vent their emotions on the first stirring issue in this counry since the Vietnam war. But the practical Swedes would not accept that wind and solar power could keep their Nordic country warm and working within a decade.

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