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ENVIRONMENT

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

Sweden's government has announced that it will allow a major wolf cull this year, with hunters licensed to kill as many as half of the estimated 400 animals in the country. What is going on?

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?
A wolf pair spotted in Linderöåsen near Kristianstad in Skåne. Photo: Länstyrelsen Skåne

How many wolves are there in Sweden? 

Wolves were extinct in Sweden by the mid-1880s, but a few wolves came over the Finnish border in the 1980s, reestablishing a population.  

There are currently 480 wolves living in an estimated 40 packs between Sweden and Norway, with the vast majority — about 400 — in central Sweden. 

How many wolves should there be? 

The Swedish parliament voted in 2013, however, for the population to be kept at between 170 to 270 individuals, with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency then reporting to the EU that Sweden would aim to keep the population at about 270 individuals to meet the EU’s Habitats Directive. 

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency was commissioned by the government to update the analysis,  and make a new assessment of the reference value for the wolf’s population size. It then ruled in a report the population should be maintained at about 300 individuals in order to ensure a “favourable conservation status and to be viable in the long term”. 

What’s changed now? 

Sweden’s right-wing opposition last week voted that the target number should be reduced to 170 individuals, right at the bottom of the range agreed under EU laws. With the Moderate, Christian Democrat, Centre, and Sweden Democrats all voting in favour, the statement won a majority of MPs.

“Based on the premise that the Scandinavian wolf population should not consist of more than 230 individuals, Sweden should take responsibility for its part and thus be in the lower range of the reference value,” the Environment and Agriculture Committee wrote in a statement.

Why is it a political issue? 

Wolf culling is an almost totemic issue for many people who live in the Swedish countryside, with farmers often complaining about wolves killing livestock, and hunters wanting higher numbers of licenses to be issued to kill wolves. 

Opponents of high wolf culls complain of an irrational varghat, or “wolf hate” among country people, and point to the fact that farmers in countries such as Spain manage to coexist with a much higher wolf population. 

So what has the government done? 

Even though the ruling Social Democrats voted against the opposition’s proposal, Rural Affairs Minister Anna-Caren Sätherberg agreed that the wolf population needed to be culled more heavily than in recent years. As a result, the government has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to once again reassess how many wolves there should be in the country. 

“We see that the wolf population is growing every year and with this cull, we want to ensure that we can get down to the goal set by parliament,” Sätherberg told the public broadcaster SVT.

Sweden would still meet its EU obligations on protecting endangered species, she added, although she said she understood country people “who live where wolves are, who feel social anxiety, and those who have livestock and have been affected”.

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ENERGY

Sweden’s state power company to study building mini nuclear plants

Sweden's state power company Vattenfall is looking into building a series of small modular nuclear reactors at the site of its decommissioned Ringhals plant, in what would be the first new nuclear power station in the country since 1980.

Sweden's state power company to study building mini nuclear plants

The company’s chief executive Anna Borg said in a press release on Tuesday that the first new reactors could come into operation by the early 2030s, “provided that a pilot study concludes that it would be profitable and all other conditions for a future investment decision are met, in particular, new regulations for nuclear power”. 

The statement comes at a time when Sweden’s right-wing opposition has politicised the issue of nuclear power, criticising the Social Democrat-led government for allowing the the first two nuclear power plants built at Ringhals near Gothenburg to be decommissioned in 2019 and 2020, five years earlier than intended when they were built.

“I think it’s fantastic and exciting news that Vattenfall wants to invest in new nuclear power in southern Sweden,” said Carl-Oskar Bolin, chair of the Swedish parliament’s business committee. “This is exactly what’s required to stabilise power prices in the long run.” 

Johan Pehrson, leader of the Liberal Party, accused the Social Democrats of using the power company to play political games. 

“S [the Social Democrats] has woken up and realised that they can’t win the election by making Sweden cold, and handing over a dead world to our children,” he said. 

Borg told the TT newswire that new nuclear power might be required to meet the demand for emission-free energy.

“We need to find a way forward to meet the increased demand that there is,” she said, pointing out that the number of nuclear power stations in operation in Sweden had fallen from ten to six over the last seven years. 

According to the global nuclear proliferation watchdog, the IAEA, there are several SMRs already under construction, and one, a floating reactor in Russia, already under operation. 

Vattenfall said that it planned to carry out a preliminary study in 2023 and 2024, looking at different designs, before giving the green light for construction to start towards the end of the decade. 

SMRs produce around 300MW, about the same as a gas fired power station, and much less than the 1,100MW produced by one of the modules at the power stations built in the 1970s in Sweden. 

As they can be built at equipment suppliers and then shipped to the site where they will be located, they are expected to be cheaper than the current generation of nuclear power plants, which have historically seen enormous cost overruns and delays. 

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