Christian Democrats signal Swedish shift to nuclear power

The Christian Democratic party in Sweden has recently announced that it is changing its position on nuclear power. According to a report published by the party, the goal is no longer to "phase out Swedish nuclear energy as renewable sources replace it".

Instead, the Christian Democrats explain that they “do not wish to rule out that new nuclear reactors will be built in Sweden after 2010”.

Currently, the nuclear reactors located at Ringhals , Forsmark and Oskarshamn produce around 50 percent of the electricity in Sweden, a substantial figure when viewed in an international perspective.

The ten reactors that are in service began operating between 1972 and 1985 and have been continuously upgraded to increase their yield.

However, the reactors were not built to last and some 15-20 years into the future the need will arise to replace them.

Although Sweden is one of the countries in the world that relies most on nuclear power, there has been wide political resentment against this energy source during the past few decades.

The big shift in the Swedish debate came with the accident in Harrisburg in 1979 and the nuclear-referendum in 1980. Swedish citizens were then given the option to vote for three different strategies for nuclear power, all aiming to ultimately abolish this source of energy.

The result of this vote might very well have been as hotly debated as the referendum itself, but the Parliament ultimately set the year 2010 as the final date when the last reactor would be taken out of action.

After substantial political pressure from Denmark, the two reactors in Barsebäck were closed down on the November 30th 1999 and the May 31st 2005.

But during the last few years, technological improvements in nuclear technology allied with the debate surrounding climate change have stimulated renewed interest in nuclear power. The previous aim to abolish nuclear energy may very well never occur.

Recently even the Centre Party has begun changing its stance on nuclear power. This is astonishing given that a centre-right government was dissolved in 1978 when the Centre Party, being strongly anti nuclear power, could not come to terms with its Liberal and Moderate coalition partners.

That both the Christian Democrats and the Centre party have shifted towards preserving and perhaps even expanding Swedish nuclear power represents an important shift in energy policies. This shift may mean that decision makers gain a more nuanced and less ideological view of nuclear power.

Nuclear power is on the rise internationally. Many reactors are being built in countries such as China and India and the third generation of nuclear reactors are on the rise in Japan, South Korea and European nations such as Finland and France.

At the same time, a massive expansion of nuclear power is expected in the USA beginning with the signing of new government permits in 2010.

In years to come, we might very well see this trend spreading to Sweden, something that was unthinkable only a few years ago.

Nima Sanandaji is chief executive of think-tank Captus