Thinking about Sweden’s nuclear future

Swedish nuclear safety expert Frigyes Reisch from the Royal Institute of Technology speaks with The Local's Gabriel Stein about how the situation in Japan may impact the nuclear energy development in Sweden.

Thinking about Sweden's nuclear future
Reactor 1 at the Forsmark nuclear power plant

Following the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the United States, Sweden held a public referendum on the future of nuclear power which led to a Riksdag decision to halt further development of nuclear power plants and phase out nuclear power by 2010.

In 2009, however, the centre-right Alliance government announced it was reversing the phase-out in response to concerns about climate change. And in July 2010, the Riksdag voted to replace aging nuclear reactors at the three existing plants.

Sweden currently ten reactors operating at three nuclear power plants – Forsmark, Oskarshamn, and Ringhals – with ten operational nuclear reactors, which produce about 45 percent of the country’s electricity.

Each site has been plagued by safety breaches, with the most recent serious incident occurring in July 2006 at Forsmark when two backup generators failed to start following a loss of power at the plant.

Frigyes Reisch, an associate professor at the Department for Nuclear Power Safety at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), is a leading expert on nuclear safety.

He has worked for the International Atomic Energy Association and at the Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate, SKI, for 27 years.

On Tuesday, he answered a few questions about how the situation in Japan may impact the nuclear energy development in Sweden.

Do you think people in Sweden should be concerned with nuclear power?

Yes. I think so. The problem is that you always get surprises, Three Mile Island and so on. And now again a surprise. No one in the world would have expected this.

Could what happened in Japan occur in Sweden?

I hope not. It can happen in one reactor, but I think even if a catastrophe did happen in Sweden it would be handled more effectively.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he could say with certainty that the same situation could not occur in Sweden, partly because there are no tsunamis and earthquakes. Do you agree?

Unexpected things can happen, like at the Forsmark nuclear power plant, when the power disappeared in 2006. But the people in the control room fixed that in 20 minutes.

What effect will this have on the construction of new nuclear power plants in Sweden?

More questions will be asked and it will take longer time and more discussions before they arrive to a conclusion to build or not.

Do you still support nuclear power?

I still support nuclear power, but I want to take it easy.

I’m not happy about the increase in Sweden’s nuclear power output. To increase power in a nuclear reactor, you have to increase the fuel temperature. The higher the fuel temperature the nearer you come to the melting point. So the margin to melting is diminished and we are losing the safety margins against unexpected events.

They calculate a thousand scenarios, but the 1,001st scenario can occur when you don’t expect and then it’s nice to have extra safety margins. No one can guarantee that the one scenario comes that we didn’t account for.

This started 20 yeas ago when there were 12 nuclear reactors in Sweden. Then two reactors were closed so there were ten reactors producing the same amount of energy as 12 had been producing. This has continued and continued. They’ve recognized that it’s very easy to increase power and get more profit without enormous investments like a new power plant.

Why are power plants increasing nuclear energy output?

Money, it is a very minor investment to get a lot of energy — a lot of megawatts for a minimal investment.

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Russia’s ‘nuclear titanic’ sets off for Swedish coast

A Russian power plant dubbed a “nuclear Titanic” by environmental campaigners set off on Saturday on its way to Sweden’s Baltic coast.

Russia's 'nuclear titanic' sets off for Swedish coast
The Akademik Lomonosov nuclear power station sets off from St Petersburg on Saturday. Photo: Dmitri Lovetsky/TT/AP
Akademik Lomonosov, the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, left the Baltic Shipyard in St Petersburg on Saturday morning.
It is expected to reach the Swedish coast next week, before making its way through the narrow Öresund straits, across the Kattegat and into the North Sea. 
“We are following this closely through our cooperation with other countries and through our own national agencies,” Johan Friberg, Director of the Swedish Radiation Safety Agency told Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT
Russia’s development of a floating nuclear power plant has generated alarm among its Nordic neighbours, with Norway’s foreign minister Børge Brende last June warning that the plan to transport it fully fuelled raised “serious questions”. 
Karolina Skog, Sweden’s environment minister, argued last June that floating nuclear power stations created “a new type of risk”. 
“It is important that Russia makes every effort to fulfil the criteria of international agreements, which should be seen as applying to floating nuclear power stations as well,” she said.  
After a meeting in Moscow that July, Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom relented on its plans to drag the reactor through the Baltic fuelled, saying that the plant would instead be fuelled in Murmansk after it had arrived in the Russian Arctic. 
“We will carry out the transportation through the Baltic and the Scandinavian region without nuclear fuel on board,” Alexey Likhachev told the Independent Barents Observer.  
Jan Haverkamp, nuclear expert for Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe, has attacked the plant as a ‘nuclear Titanic’, and “threat to the Arctic” 
“Nuclear reactors bobbing around the Arctic Ocean will pose a shockingly obvious threat to a fragile environment which is already under enormous pressure from climate change,” he said in a press release
After the plant is fuelled and tested, it will be pulled across to Pevek on the Eastern Siberian Sea, where it will be used to power oil rigs.