The Swedish government heralded a dramatic change in power generation, when it gave the green light to new nuclear reactors last week.
Plans have been announced to overturn a near 30-year ban on atomic plants as part of a new drive to increase energy security and combat global warming. Ministers said they would present a bill next month which would allow the construction of nuclear reactors on existing sites and introduce a new carbon tax as part of a programme to cut carbon emissions by 40% on 1990 levels by 2020.
But Swedish ministers also outlined plans to lift the proportion of renewable energy consumption to 50% of the total. In the transport sector alone, the target was set at 10% and Sweden has become a major importer of sugar-based ethanol from Brazil. Sweden already gets much of its power from hydroelectric and biomass schemes.
The new energy package also included plans to expand wind power and tough new taxes on CO2 and energy.
The country’s new nuclear decision is significant because Sweden was at the forefront of anti-nuclear sentiment following the Three Mile Island accident in America in 1979 and voted in a referendum a year later to phase out its existing stations.
Fredrik Reinfeld, the Swedish prime minister, said he did not feel bound by his nation’s previous referendum result because it did not specify how the power from the nuclear stations should be replaced. However, the government must still convince parliament before it is turned into law. The proposal was made possible after a compromise by the Center party, a junior coalition member which has long held a sceptical stance toward nuclear power.
“I’m doing this for the sake of my children and grandchildren,” said Center party leader, Maud Olofsson. “I can live with the fact that nuclear power will be part of our electricity supply system in the foreseeable future.”
This follows a series of public opinion polls indicating a change in sentiment as the country becomes increasingly dependent on energy imports from Norway and climate change has become a matter of increasing concern.
Finland is the first to European country to start to construct a new nuclear plant, and has been followed by France. Britain is preparing for new reactors to be constructed to replace those coming to the end of their useful lives.
Germany – like Sweden – has been seen as a firm opponent of atomic power but chancellor, Angela Merkel, has made clear that she too thinks a new debate should take place on whether new plants should be constructed.