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'Russian nuclear reactors in Sweden a hard sell'

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The Ringhals reactor park in Sweden. File: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT
08:59 CET+01:00
As Sweden looks at adding to its nuclear reactor fleet, a new review pinned hopes on buying Westinghouse-made reactors. While Russian reactors are a good fit technically, the Swedish people may not accept them, experts noted.

"Technically, the Russian reactors meet high security demands," said nuclear physics professor Jan Blomgren in an interview with the Ny Teknik magazine. "But it's a different thing entirely to get society to accept them."

In its latest issue, Ny Teknik looked at which reactors could be a good fit for the Swedish market. The review ruled out most heavy-water reactors, as the technique is foreign to Sweden, which currently hosts a fleet of ten reactors, either boiling-water or pressurized-water reactors.

Reactor makers Westinghouse do however offer a light-water reactor that would be a good fit for Sweden, Ny Teknik said.

Sweden has had a tumultuous relationship with nuclear power over recent decades. The government in 1980 said Sweden would phase out its fleet by not replacing or building new reactors when the old ones were decommissioned. Parliament revoked the moratorium on new reactors in 2010.

About half of Sweden's electricity production comes from its reactors, noted the World Nuclear Assocation (WNA). And despite the construction freeze now being a thing of the past, setting up a new reactor is not an overnight endeavour.

"In January 2014 (electricity company) Vattenfall launched a decade-long public consultation on building new nuclear plants, centred on the Ringhals site where the two oldest units are expected to close in the mid-2020s," WNA said in its country summary.

While it will take more than ten years for any new reactor to be connected to the grid, the industry in Sweden has begun to speculate about whether Westinghouse or any other reactor makers have the right design for Sweden. There are already three Westinghouse reactors in Sweden - Ringhals 2, 3 och 4.

Mats Ladebor, nuclear power development head at Vattenfall, ruled out new developments in reactor designs - with Bombay looking at thorium-fueled reactors, for example.

"If there is a new reactor concept it takes a very long time before it's been tried and tested enough to be of interest," Ladebor told Ny Teknik.

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Even new design that has got the go-ahead has run into problems. Across the Baltic Sea, the Finns have faced significant construction delays as French reactor makers Areva plod on with the flagship Olkiluoto 3. In January, local media cited a fresh delay, which means it would not be up and running until 2018.

For the Swedish market, Japanese reactors were ruled out because they would have to be adapted to local conditions, the Ny Teknik review noted, while Russian reactors are, technically, a good fit. Yet observers noted that a Russian design would be a hard sell. 

"I can't imagine any electricity company taking that debate with the public," nuclear physics professor Blomgren underlined.

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