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Sweden: Still under the nuclear cloud

ALL ANALYSES of the country's energy prospects run up against the same problem: the nuclear issue. Nuclear electricity makes up 35% of the country's total primary energy supply, but in 1980 the population voted in a referendum for a phased shut-down of the industry. Although only one reactor has closed so far, the industry's future remains under a cloud.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its latest review of Sweden's policies*, stops short of recommending what should be done about nuclear. It notes, however, that a phase-out 'will pose serious challenges to the three fundamental pillars of national energy policy, namely: economic growth; security of energy supply; and environmental protection'. Any plan for closures should take into account the costs of replacing nuclear power and the implications for growth, security and the environmentand public discussion should be encouraged. 'Concrete plans for replacing the phased-out capacity should be developed as soon as decisions are final,' the IEA says.

Under legislation following the referendum, nuclear generation was due to end in 2010. But that deadline has been removed and parliament says a number of conditions must be met before a reactor can closethe use of oil and gas should not increase as a result, renewables should be available and there should be no serious economic and employment affects. The one closurethe 600 megawatt (MW) Barsebäck I unit, which stopped generating in 1999is viewed as a political move because the facility is just over the Øresund Strait from the capital of non-nuclear Denmark. Negotiations are under way for the closure of Barsebäck II, also of 600 MW.

The nuclear industry stresses the contribution nuclear generation is making towards meeting the country's greenhouse-gas emission targetsfor which the IEA accords praisewhile the country's heavy industry also supports nuclear. According to the IEA, load-factors of Sweden's facilities are higher than the world average.

In 2002, nuclear supplied 46% of the country's electricity, with hydro-electricity supplying the same share and thermal stations supplying nearly 8%there was a small contribution from wind power. State-owned Vattenfall owns majority interests in the four nuclear units at Ringhals, the three at Forsmark and Barsebäck II, while three at Oskarshamn are owned by a private-sector Sydkraft-Fortum venture.

Overall, the IEA approves of the country's 'light-handed approach to regulating energy companies', saying the mix of government influence and free-market forces has given the population 'low-cost, reliable, secure and environmentally friendly energy'. As a member of Nord Pool (the Nordic electricity market) Sweden is 'one of the true pioneers in liberalised electricity'. But the country's 'high and complicated energy taxation' is criticised, as is the state's ownership of the largest electricity company (Vattenfall, with 49% of total generating capacity).

The IEA notes the potential for gas in the country's energy mix. The fuel meets only 1.5% of total primary energy supply, but mainly because the distribution system is so limitedin the areas it reaches gas has taken market shares of 20-25%. Gas is imported from Denmark's Dong, through a pipeline under the Øresund Strait, and distributed, by Nova, up the west coast to just north of Göteborg. Actions to facilitate expansion of gas use should include the setting up of an official network operator, the IEA says.

*Sweden 2004 Review, Energy Policies of IEA Countries. IEA Publications, 9 rue de la Fédération, 75739 Paris Cedex 15, France

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