The Time of Green Delusion in Sweden is Over

František Janouch

In the middle of the 1970s, a coalition of green groups began to concentrate their fire against nuclear energy in Sweden. The result was a referendum in 1980 in which citizens had to choose among three unclearly formulated alternatives concerning the future of nuclear energy in their country. As a follow-up, in the mid-1980s, the Swedish parliament passed a law to stop the use of nuclear energy. Moreover, paragraph 6 of the new law banned scientific research and development of technologies which would lead to the construction of new nuclear power reactors or improvement of existing reactors. The law further stipulated that twelve nuclear power reactors, both operating and under construction, would be closed not later than 2010. That specific date was "calculated" by the legislators in the following way: the commonly held opinion at the beginning of the eighties was that the duration of safe exploitation of a reactor is 25 years, and, as the last reactor under construction at that time was planned to be commissioned in 1985, the legislators easily came to the specified date. Even experienced legislators can make blunders, sometimes quite serious. In 1990, Swedish nuclear plants supplied over 45% of electric energy; hydroelectric plants added almost 45%. The carbon dioxide emission in Sweden was one of the lowest in the world.

The majority of the twelve nuclear reactors operating in Sweden at the beginning of the 1980s were designed and built in Sweden. Like many other Swedish-made industrial products, they proved themselves to be among the best in the world. The reactors, built at the well-known plant ASEA-Atom (later ABB Atom, and now Westinghouse Atom that belongs to Toshiba) were boiling water reactors (BWR). The combined efforts of greens and their allies soon led to a further set-back. At the beginning of the new millennium, after a political deal with the Social Democrats, the two well-functioning reactor blocks (total 1200 MW) in Barsebäck, South Sweden, were closed. Although the proponents neglected to estimate the impact on the Swedish economy, the country did feel the deficit of electrical energy. In the end, the nuclear regulatory authorities allowed the majority of the remaining ten nuclear plants to increase their power in order to compensate for the shortage of electricity.

In the mid-eighties, the designers and manufacturers of nuclear plants carried out a thorough study of one of the oldest Swedish reactors operating for almost twenty years with an amazing result: the reactor revealed no traces of deterioration. The nuclear regulators thus commissioned this reactor for another (at least) twenty years of operation.

In 2006, the Swedish parliament finally rescinded paragraph 6 of the anti-nuclear law. It was impossible to explain to its citizens and the world alike why Sweden, a free and technologically advanced country, should forbid its own engineers and technical specialists from conducting research and development in an advanced area of energy science and technology. Finally, in 2010, the Swedish parliament cancelled the ban on the operation of Swedish nuclear plants after 2010. Building new nuclear energy blocks is also permitted. The reason was that, in spite of the closure of Barsebäck, the remaining nuclear power reactors still supplied in 2010 almost the same 40% of electrical energy as at the end of the 1980s. Moreover, this energy was the cheapest in Sweden as plant overhead expenses had been amortized over 25 years. The low cost of produced electrical energy balanced the traditionally expensive cost of the Swedish workforce, therefore making high-quality, Swedish high-technology articles competitive on the world market.

Most recently Sweden is taking the next step in the fight against the "green delusion". Dagens Nyheter, a highly influential newspaper, published a long article, "Proposed new reactor should be built in Oskarshamn." The authors were Janne Wallenius, professor of reactor physics at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and Jochan Hallén, the director general of Westinghouse Atom. The authors welcomed the recent changes in Swedish legislation and called for restoring Sweden to its leading role in nuclear energy as was the case in the 1970s. The necessary first steps in this direction are related to building a "generation four" nuclear reactor in Oskarshamn. This location is the site of a large international project on radioactive waste burial, accomplished during the last twenty-five years, namely a shaft a few hundred meters deep into which even large trucks can enter. The leadership of the existing nuclear plant in Oskarshamn, as well as local regional self-government, are receptive to building a new nuclear facility and are ready to support the project.

Sweden has awakened from thirty years of green darkness. The country is capable of regaining its status as one of the leading international forces in the development of nuclear energy. The history of Swedish energy policy can teach a valuable lesson to other countries such as Germany that are attempting to abandon nuclear energy.


Barsebäck is a closed BWR nuclear power plant in Sweden, situated in Barsebäck, Skåne. Located just 20 kilometers from Copenhagen, the Danish government pressed for its closure during its entire lifetime. As a result of the Swedish nuclear power phase-out, its two reactors have now been closed. The first reactor, Barsebäck 1, was closed November 30, 1999, and the second, Barsebäck 2, ceased operations May 31, 2005. (From Wikipedia)

The nuclear power station Oskarshamn is one of three active nuclear power stations in Sweden. The plant is about 30 kilometers north of the city of Oskarshamn on the Baltic Sea coast. The three reactors produce about 10% of the electricity needs of Sweden. All reactors use BWR technology. Unit 1 has an installed output of 487 MW, Unit 2 627 MW, and Unit 3, the newest reactor block at the facility, has an installed output of 1,194 MW. The nuclear power station Oskarshamn is one of the largest power stations in the Nordic area. (From Wikipedia)

Professor František Janouch, a well-known Czech nuclear physicist,, is at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. Translation by Vladimir Zelevinsky, Michigan State University.

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