Sydkraft battles on to stop nuclear closure

Swedish power firm seeks last-minute legal block on competition, environmental, grounds

Swedish power company Sydkraft is mounting an all-out legal battle to avert a forced closure of its Barsebäck 1 nuclear reactor by 30 November, including a challenge to environmental procedures underpinning what would be the government's first step towards achieving its long-term goal of phasing out nuclear power.

An appeal lodged today with the Swedish high court calls for interim measures to halt closure of the reactor, pending a ruling from the European Commission on whether the decommissioning order breaches competition rules. This follows last Friday's rejection of Sydkraft's case for a blocking order by the court of appeal (ENDS Daily 8 November).

Meanwhile, another judgement is pending from the supreme administrative court, in the form of a separate request for a stay of execution while the court decides whether to take the unusual step of re-examining whether the closure order complies with EU environmental law. The lynchpin of this case, lodged by Sydkraft's lawyers last month, concerns whether EU legislation on environmental impact assessment (EIA) was adequately complied with.

The original decommissioning order narrowly predated 1997 amendments to the relevant EU directive, which require nuclear power plants to undergo a full environmental assessment before being decommissioned. In a complex ruling covering many other legal aspects, the supreme court eventually ruled this June that procedures amounting to a retrospective application of the amended directive had been followed (ENDS Daily 16 June).

However, Sydkraft has now released advice received from a prominent British EU environmental law expert, which disagrees with the supreme court's judgement. In his opinion, dated 8 November, Richard Macrory says that the retrospective justification had not been sufficiently closely aligned to the directive's requirements and objectives.

In particular, Professor Macrory argues, no document produced specifically with assessment in mind had been submitted, no non-technical summary intelligible to the lay public was available and insufficient attention had been given to transboundary implications. In the short-term, at least, the nuclear power is likely to be replaced by coal-fired power from Denmark, increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Sydkraft says closure of the reactor will cause it considerable operational damage and loss of market share, and claims public opinion in Sweden is increasing swinging behind the company. Legal commentators suggest, however, that the supreme administrative court will be under "intense political pressure not to come with a ruling that could lead to another 18-month delay."

Follow Up:
Sydkraft, tel: +46 40 25 50 00.

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