Sweden to Switch Off First Nuclear Plant in 1998
As the first country planning to phase out all of its nuclear reactors, Sweden faces a myriad of economic, environmental, and political effects
The Swedish government's decision last week to close two nuclear reactors has touched off one of the hottest political debates here since the decision to join the European Union 2-1/2 years ago.Skip to next paragraph
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The closure of the two reactors marks the beginning of a phaseout of all 12 of Sweden's nuclear power plants. News of the announcement has saturated the media and has Swedes weighing in on both sides of the nuclear-energy debate.
"Everybody has strong feelings," says Bo Histad, a professor of nuclear physics at Uppsala University, about 60 miles north of Stockholm. "It's almost like religion - you simply believe or don't believe in [nuclear power]."
The decision by the minority Social Democratic Party, which was brokered with the Center and Left Parties, stems from a 1980 referendum and subsequent parliament ruling to phase out the use of nuclear energy by 2010.
Public pressure in Sweden to find alternative energy sources followed the near-meltdown at Three Mile Island in Middletown, Pa., in 1979. It was aroused again in 1986, after the Soviet nuclear accident at Chernobyl left large tracts of northern Sweden contaminated with radioactive fallout.
Schedule for close down
Under the agreement announced Feb. 4, the government said it would close two reactors in Barsebck in southern Sweden. The first will be closed by July 1998. The second will close before July 2001, if the resulting loss of electricity production can be compensated for through the use of alternative energy sources and conservation.
The two reactors are not far from Denmark's capital, Copenhagen. The Danish government, long concerned about safety at the Swedish plants close by, hailed the planned closures.
The reactors, owned by the independent company Sydkraft, have a 1,200-megawatt capacity and are among Sweden's oldest.
In 1992, an "event" in the emergency cooling system of Barsebck 2 reawakened antinuclear concerns and resulted in five nuclear reactors throughout Sweden being temporarily closed for modernization.
The announcement of the proposed closures prompted an outcry from industry and trade unions who say decommissioning the country's nuclear power supply will increase energy prices and exacerbate unemployment.
More than half of Sweden's electricity comes from nuclear power. The government said it would meet the deficit through consumer energy savings, wind and water power, and bio-energy, such as using fast-growing trees for fuel for energy plants.
Other reports indicate that coal and petroleum would make up more than 60 percent of the energy supply after the first reactor's closure, with another 25 percent coming from bio-energy and other alternative sources.
The government said the cost of replacing the lost output would be an estimated 9 billion krona ($1.2 billion) over seven years, but gave no details on future energy taxes or pricing.
Swedish industries such as paper, chemical, and steel, as well as mines and engineering companies, have come to rely on cheap electricity. Companies like Volvo and SCA, the country's biggest forestry group, have spoken out against the nuclear decommissioning. The owner of the reactors has vowed to fight the decision. Lands Organization (LO), the nation's largest trade union normally friendly with the Social Democrats, also decried the decision.