Nuclear reactor shuts down after thirty years

Sweden shut down its Barsebäck 2 nuclear reactor at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, the second reactor to be taken out of service in the country since 1999. The move ends almost thirty years of electricity production at the plant.

“That’s that. We have brought Barsebäck’s electricity production to an end,” said the plant’s Leif Öst.

Sweden plans to phase out nuclear power, which still accounts for nearly half of the Scandinavian country’s energy supply, over the next three decades.

The first reactor at Barsebäck was shut down in 1999. Barsebäck 2 accounts for 3.75 percent of Sweden’s total electricity production.

Barsebäck’s closure was marked by a sentimental countdown through the day and the media were invited to witness the “historic industrial event”.

“It’s a sad day, one which we will always remember. We’ve been going for thirty years and sixteen days. Now we will deal with the power station sensibly, right up to putting the nuclear fuel into safe keeping,” said Öst.

The reactor cooled through the night. By 8am, noted Svenska Dagbladet, the temperature had dropped to below 100 degrees centigrade.

“Many employees here would have gladly continued to run the nuclear power station if the Swedish Administrative Supreme Court’s decision had been contrary to the government’s decision,” said Lars-Gunnar Fritz, information officer at Barsebäck.

“At the same time, those who have already planned for a new job or education can continue with their personal development. So there are mixed feelings about the decision here at Barsebäck,” he told Swedish television.

The country voted in a non-binding referendum in 1980 to phase out its 12 nuclear reactors by 2010, but that target was abandoned in 1997 after officials acknowledged that there would not be sufficient alternative energy sources to replace the nuclear output.

In October 2004, the minority Social Democratic government clinched a deal on the Barsebäck 2 reactor in south west Sweden with the formerly agrarian Centre Party and the Left Party.

Under that deal, the government will promote the use of wind power, biofuels, solar energy and hydro power to replace the lost nuclear energy, as consumers will be obliged to buy a pre-determined amount of electricity produced from these so-called “clean” sources.

Natural gas will also be used during a transition period.

Yet a poll published just weeks after the October 2004 agreement was reached showed that a whopping 80 percent of Swedes were in favour of maintaining or expanding the country’s nuclear facilities.

Only 16 percent of those questioned said they wanted the nuclear plants to be dismantled.

The pro-nuclear sentiment in Sweden is thought to be linked to worries that ridding the country of nuclear power would further boost electricity prices, which have sky-rocketed by 50 percent on average since the deregulation of its energy market eight years ago.

Including Barsebäck 2, Sweden’s 11 nuclear reactors, located at four separate plants, currently make up about half of the country’s electricity production. Experts say nuclear production is likely to fall to 44 percent by 2010, or 31 percent of total energy consumption.

Modelled on Germany’s plans to phase out nuclear energy, the programme says existing plants should continue running as long as they “contribute economically”, which means, in effect, until the end of their normal operating lives.

In a few years the government will begin to look at the oldest reactors to determine which should be shut down next.

(The Local/AFP)