Sweden plans new law to enable nuclear plant construction

Sweden’s new centre-right government wants to build new nuclear power plants to boost energy security amid a fierce debate over high electricity prices and the need to generate carbon-free energy to make industry greener.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said a new law would be proposed to lift current restrictions that limit the number of Swedish nuclear reactors to 10 in only three locations across the country.

“We should be able to build more reactors in more places than we’ve been able to do up till now . . . We have an obvious need for more electricity production in Sweden,” Kristersson told a press conference on Wednesday.

Sweden is the latest European country to look to nuclear power to bolster its production of renewable energy alongside other sources of zero-emission energy such as wind power. The UK plans to start work on eight reactors by 2030, while Germany and Belgium recently extended the life of some reactors beyond their original shutdown dates after policy U-turns.

The Scandinavian country has six reactors in operation, half the number it once had, after rightwing and leftwing governments moved to close them down in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Massive projects to make carbon-free steel, iron ore and batteries in northern Sweden mean that the wealthy Scandinavian country needs to increase its electricity production — currently dependent on nuclear, hydro, and wind power — significantly in the coming years.

LKAB, the state-owned iron ore miner, has said making its production carbon-free would require electricity equivalent to one-third of Sweden’s current electricity production, with more energy needed elsewhere in the steelmaking process and in other industries.

Romina Pourmokhtari, Sweden’s environment minister, said the government was looking into whether two decommissioned reactors could be restarted as well as the potential for building smaller nuclear plants. “We see that other countries are building small reactors instead of a few large ones,” she added.

Any new reactors could be at least a decade away, judging by progress in other European countries such as neighbouring Finland, because of the complexity of the technology at nuclear power plants introduced after disasters such as in Chernobyl in 1986 and that in Fukushima, and the need for any plant to withstand the impact of an aircraft crashing into it.

Finland’s Olkiluoto-3 plant was due to open in 2009, but has been repeatedly delayed and has ended up more than three times over budget. The power station is forecast to start full production in March, though that date was pushed back several times in 2022 because of problems, including with the water pumps that act as a cooling agent for nuclear reactors.

Sweden’s government and the centre-left opposition, in power for eight years until last November, have traded blows over who is to blame for high electricity prices, despite a surplus in the north of the country owing to its extensive hydro resources. Industries based in southern Sweden, where most of the country’s nuclear power plants has been located, have long urged successive governments to build more power stations.

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