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 control room at Ringhals 1 as it was shut down in 2020. Photo: Jonas Lindstedt/TT

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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How Sweden has profited from selling Norwegian energy back to Norway

Sweden has turned a profit buying cheap Norwegian power from the country's north and then exporting it back to southern Norway where prices are higher. 

How Sweden has profited from selling Norwegian energy back to Norway

Sweden has profited from a large disparity in energy prices between the south and the north in Norway, Norwegian public broadcaster NRK reports. 

Energy in north Norway is considerably cheaper than in the south, where price records have been broken throughout the summer. Sweden imports cheap energy from north Norway into north Sweden before moving it south and exporting it to south Norway. 

“It is often the case that power is exported from northern Norway to northern Sweden and imported from southern Sweden to southern Norway, and lately it has at least been like that,” Ann Myhrer Østenby from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) told NRK. 

Around 80 percent of the energy exported from Norway is from the north, according to figures from the NVE. Power is much cheaper in north Norway because more is produced than can be used, while in the south, reservoirs used in hydroelectric production are extremely low.  

“People scream about exports from the south, but it is actually the northern Norwegian power that has been exported,” Tor Reier Lilleholt, energy analysis manager at Volue Insight, told NRK. 

Between January and July of this year, 4.51 Terawatt-hours (TWh), or 4.5 trillion watts, were sent from Norway to Sweden, while Sweden exported 3.67 TWh to Norway. Not all of the energy exported into Norway will have originated in the country’s north, though. 

Energy from the north is exported rather than directly transferred to parts of Norway where energy is the most expensive domestically because Norway does not have the infrastructure or capacity to move large quantities of electricity from north to south. 

Whereas Sweden has a much better energy transmission capacity than Norway, meaning it can import energy from its neighbours, transport it south and then export it back. 

Bank Nordea’s investment director Robert Næss told online publication Nettavisen earlier this year that Sweden has made billions of kroner by importing cheap electricity from north Norway and exporting it to the south.

“I arrive at a gross profit of just under 2.3 billion Norwegian kroner, and then they have to hand over around half a billion kroner of this profit to Statnett,” he estimated in May. 

If Norway were to build power lines to move power from the north to the south, rather than exporting it to Sweden, it could take up to ten years, and it isn’t clear whether it would equalise prices throughout Norway or stop its neighbours from profiting from price disparity anyway. 

“It would probably have a certain effect, but how much depends on many assumptions that are difficult to take into account. It is very complex,” Østenby said.