New Swedish energy target eases way for new nuclear power

A file photo taken on 23 October 2006 shows maintenance personnel having their radiation level monitored at the Forsmark nuclear power plant, Sweden. (PHOTO / AFP)

STOCKHOLM – Sweden's parliament on Tuesday adopted a new energy target, giving the right-wing government the green light to push forward with plans to build new nuclear plants in a country that voted 40 years ago to phase out atomic power.

Changing the target to "100 percent fossil-free" electricity, from "100 percent renewable" is key to the government's plan to meet an expected doubling of electricity demand to around 300 TwH by 2040 and reach net zero emissions by 2045.

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"This creates the conditions for nuclear power," Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson said in parliament. "We need more electricity production, we need clean electricity and we need a stable energy system."

The focus on nuclear power is part of a wider shift in environmental policy in a country that has long touted itself as a "green" champion

Sweden's parties agreed a deal in 2016 that new reactors could be built at existing sites. However, without subsidies, it has been seen as too expensive. The new right-of-center coalition says new reactors are essential to power the shift to a fossil-free economy and has promised generous loan guarantees.

Around 98 percent of electricity in Sweden is already generated from water, nuclear and wind.

State-owned utility Vattenfall is looking at building at least two small modular reactors and at extending the life of the country's existing reactors.

Critics say nuclear power is expensive, will take too long to build and is unsafe.

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The focus on nuclear power is part of a wider shift in environmental policy in a country that has long touted itself as a "green" champion.

The coalition plans to cut the bio-fuel mix in petrol and diesel, leading to bigger CO2 emissions, a move that could mean Sweden missing 2030 emissions goals.

Proposals by Sweden to allow countries to prolong subsidies for standby coal power plants have also been met concern in the EU, while Stockholm also wanted Brussels to water-down a landmark law to restore deteriorating natural habitats.

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At home, plans to simplify environmental permitting could speed up the build-out of wind power and allow miners to exploit large deposits of rare earth elements, crucial in electric motor production.