Swedish nuclear debate heads for "collision"

Energy agency, grid operator, cross swords over planned closure of second reactor

A public row has broken out between the two major Swedish energy authorities over the implications of closing the second nuclear reactor at Barsebäck in July next year. The closure would create a power deficit of about 1 terawatt hour (TWh).

The Swedish energy agency (STEM) argues in a letter to the government released this week that deregulation of the Nordic power market means the country no longer needs to be entirely self-sufficient in electricity, which can now be imported from neighbouring Denmark or Norway at times of peak demand.

Closure of the Barsebäck 2 reactor is expected to be confirmed in September's autumn budget as the next step in the government's programme to phase out nuclear power. It follows closure of Barsebäck 1 last November (ENDS Daily 1 December 1999).

"In our opinion there are no obstacles to closing the plant down", STEM told the government. "Moreover, a shutdown of Barsebäck 2 is crucial if Swedish environmental targets are to be met."

However, the closure is strongly opposed by Svenska Kraftnät (SVK), operator of the Swedish electricity grid and co-owner with its Norwegian counterpart Statnett of NordPool, the Nordic power exchange. According to national newspaper Dagens Nyheter, STEM and SVK are "on a collision course" over the issue.

SVK maintains that Sweden already consumes all the electricity it can produce or import during the coldest part of the winter. Closing the reactor would strain capacity to the limit, particularly in southern and mid-Sweden, with wild swings in electricity prices. Work on the grid is in progress to increase capacity, particularly for north-south transmission of Swedish hydropower; but improvements are unlikely to be finished before the winter of 2002/3 at the earliest.

Sweden voted in a referendum in 1980 to phase out nuclear power in favour of cleaner forms of energy, including hydropower, biomass and wind power. Nuclear power from the 11 remaining reactors, including Barsebäck 2, meets 47% of Sweden's electricity requirements, according to STEM. Hydroelectric schemes produce another 47% and fossil fuel power accounts for most of the rest.

Follow Up:
STEM, tel: +46 16 544 2008; SVK, tel: +46 8 739 7800.

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