Sweden’s Government and the Swedish Democrats have introduced a new bill to parliament – New Nuclear Power for Sweden – a first step. The bill proposes that the provision in the Environmental Code which prohibits the construction of nuclear reactors in places other than where nuclear power is already available be removed. In addition, it proposes removing a provision limiting the number of reactors in operation to ten. The legislative amendments are expected to enter into force on 1 January 2024.

“By today's decision, we are increasing the pace of the green transition and paving the way for more nuclear power in more places. With new nuclear power, we create the conditions for reducing emissions, said Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

“Expanding nuclear power is one of the most important climate measures for Sweden. We need to double electricity generation by 2045, and a large part of this needs to come from planned power. Therefore, the partners are working with full force to remove the obstacles that have previously been raised against new nuclear power. It is crucial for the industrial and transport sectors to be able to switch from fossil to electric,” said Minister of Climate & Environment Romina Pourmokhtari.

The proposals mean that the provision in the Environmental Code which states that the government may only authorise a new nuclear power reactor if it replaces a permanently closed reactor and is built on a site where one of the existing reactors is located is removed," the government said. "It must be possible to allow more than ten reactors in operation at the same time and in other locations than before. A consequential change is proposed to a provision in the Act on Nuclear Activities which contains a reference to the prohibitions in the Environmental Code." The changes to the law are expected to enter into force on 1 January 2024.

This was not unexpected. In October 2022, Sweden's new centre-right coalition government with Moderate party leader Ulf Kristersson as Prime Minister, adopted a programme calling for the expansion of nuclear power. Four parties, comprising the Christian Democrats, the Liberals, the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats announced a written agreement on policies – the Tidöavtalet. The agreement was named after the negotiations that took place during the week at Tidö castle outside Västerås. The four parties have a narrow parliamentary majority.

The section of the Tidöavtalet on climate and energy included the following:

  • The removal of prohibitions in the Environmental Code to allow new reactors at new sites and to permit more than ten reactors in operation at the same time.
  • Necessary regulations should be developed to create the conditions for the construction and operation of small modular reactors (SMR) in Sweden.
  • The permitting process for NPPs must be shortened and a single authority will be responsible for issuing permits. A special rule in the Environmental Code will also be introduced to expedite permits for new NPPs.
  • Energy policy will be changed from 100% "renewable" to 100% fossil-free.
  • The conditions for investments in nuclear power must be strengthened through, among other things, government credit guarantees.
  • New rules will be introduced that prevent politics from arbitrarily shutting down NPPs. "Nuclear power must be guaranteed the right to operate and produce electricity as long as the facilities are in good condition and operated safely. If the state forces a closure, owners must be entitled to compensation".
  • The ban on restarting closed reactors will be reversed.

Sweden's six nuclear power reactors provide about 40% of its electricity. In 1980, the government decided to phase out nuclear power, but parliament repealed this policy in 2010. The 1997 energy policy allowed 10 reactors to operate longer than envisaged in the phase-out policy, but nevertheless resulted in the premature closure of the two-unit Barsebäck NPP. In 2015, decisions were also made to close four older reactors by 2020 and Ringhals 1&2 were closed at the end of 2020 and 2019, several years earlier than planned in face of punitive taxes.

In January, a formal proposal to amend Sweden's legislation on nuclear power was presented by Kristersson and Pourmokhtari. The proposed legislative amendments were then open for consultation for three months. The government made a final decision on 28 September to introduce the bill to parliament. Tobias Andersson, Chairman of the Economic Committee said this is “the first of several steps aimed at enabling and facilitating new nuclear power investments in Sweden”.

Image: Sweden's parliament building in Stockholm (courtesy of Pixabay)