Court blocks Swedish nuclear plant closure

Ruling dents nuclear phase-out plans but government pledges to maintain its policy

Swedish government plans to phase out nuclear power have been dealt a blow by the country's Supreme Administrative Court, which ruled yesterday that the country's oldest reactor cannot be forced to close in July as planned.

Following parliamentary approval last December, the government had planned to require energy company Sydkraft to shut down the Barsebäck 1 power station as a first step in its nuclear phase out aim, followed by Barsebäck 2 in 2001 (ENDS Daily 19 December 1997).

Responding to an appeal by Sydkraft, the court put a hold on the closure plan by ordering a judicial review of the government's policy. A final decision is expected this autumn. If the court decides to forward the case to the European Court of Justice then resolution of the affair could take another year or more.

Sydkraft has welcomed the court ruling as a victory for its arguments that the government had offered insufficient compensation and time to prepare for decommissioning of the plant.

Foratom, the European nuclear industry association, has also reacted warmly. The group said it was "essential" that European governments did not close non-carbon dioxide emitting nuclear power plants at a time when they were trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "Premature closure" of Barsebäck 1 "would have increased Swedish carbon dioxide emissions by 2.5% in 1999," and "would have placed a greater burden on other member states".

The Swedish government, however, insists that the court ruling will not deflect it from its phase out policy. "It's not very important if it takes another month or two to close the reactor at Barsebäck. I am convinced that the Swedish parliament has the right to close a nuclear power plant," said industry minister Anders Sundström.

Political opinion in neighbouring Denmark is also in favour of closure of both the two nuclear reactors at Barsebäck and the government has greeted the court ruling with dismay. Danish interior minister, Thorkild Simonsen, said he would contact the Swedish government as soon as possible to seek explanation about the development.

Meanwhile, Sweden's main Conservative opposition party, which is opposed to the nuclear phase-out policy, has capitalised on the court decision. Carl Bildt, the Conservative leader, described it as a "major political core meltdown" for the government and called for a new debate on the phase-out plans in parliament. The Conservatives are pledged to reverse the phase-out policy if they gain power in Sweden's next general election, which is due in September.

Follow Up:
The Swedish Supreme Administrative Court, tel +46 8 617 6200, Sydkraft, tel +46 40 25 50 00.

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