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Madness: Sweden wants to invest in new nuclear reactors

The Swedish right-wing government seems hell-bent on continue its climate wrecking journey. After calling for as much as 88% of the EU emission cuts to be allowed to do overseas in development countries the government now want to scrap a 30-year-old ban on the building of nuclear power plants.

"The Swedish plan was agreed by the center-right coalition government and foresees the building of new reactors at the 10 sites where reactors still are operating. Under the plan, which still needs approval from the country’s parliament, Sweden would replace existing reactors gradually."

While ignoring the 1980 referendum when a majority of the Swedish people voted to end expansion and completely phase out nuclear energy they also seem to take no notice of the facts that nuclear energy is still dangerous, not cost-effective, and too expensive and will even worsen climate change.

The Guardian reports that public support for nuclear energy in Sweden has grown since 1980:

“But public support has grown since nuclear power has been repositioned as a low carbon energy source and a weapon in the fight against climate change. The decision by Sweden to back nuclear power contrasts with the nation's careful cultivation of its green image. In 2006, Sweden pledged to replace the use of all fossil fuels by 2020, but nuclear was not part of that plan.”

While I agree that nuclear energy has gained support over the years due to lobbying from the nuclear industry I firmly believe that when people have to choose between nuclear energy and renewable energy sources they choose the later. And public polls help me to back up my claim. An SOM-poll conducted in 2007 shows that a large majority in Sweden, around 80%, wants to see expansion of renewable energy such as wind and solar compared to around 20% who wants to see an expansion of nuclear energy. Other polls show that a majority of the younger generation in Sweden is against nuclear energy (maybe it’s because they are the ones that will have to live with and pay for the nuclear waste generated?).

In Sweden, and no doubt in the rest of the world, I see seven main reasons why only people who lack good judgment would back up nuclear energy:

1. We don't need more electricity and we can’t sell the surplus

Advocators for nuclear energy often claim that we need more electricity or we will get energy shortages in the future. But this is far from true. Sweden has a surplus of electricity and has had ever since 1980. In 2007-2008 the energy usage dropped by 2%. And according to reports from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) and the Swedish Energy Agency our energy surplus will increase considerably in the next 10-15 years without any new nuclear reactors or political actions needed. They expect that by 2020 Sweden will have a 60% energy surplus (40 TWh) of what today’s nuclear energy plants contributes. And this is mainly because of the construction of new wind farms, biomass plants and energy efficiency efforts.

And Sweden can’t sell the energy surplus because a majority of the countries in Europe also have a surplus of electricity. Denmark, a neighbouring country to Sweden, even has considered donating away its energy surplus to other countries.

2. Nuclear energy won't save our climate

If we are to stop the devastating effects of man-made climate change we have to act fast. The conservative estimates of UN’s IPCC shows that greenhouse gases must peak and decline by 2015 for us to be able to stop deadly runaway climate change. So if we ignore the toxic nuclear waste generated by nuclear plants, the potential terrorism threats and the high costs involved in the construction, deconstruction and maintaining of nuclear plants there is one thing that speaks against nuclear energy: time.

Building nuclear plants takes several years and is often delayed. A good example of this is the Finnish Olkiluoto 3 (OL3) reactor (the only nuclear reactor being built in the West since many years back) as an example here. The construction of the Olkiluoto reactor started in 2003 and was expected to be finished by 2009. But the reactor is now three years behind schedule, have had several severe security incidents and malfunctions during construction and probably won’t be finished until around 2012. The ill-fated Olkiluoto 3 project is massively over-budget and accounts for over 85% energy investment for 2006-2010. Just imagine the money and time wasted which could have been better spent on creating a clean renewable energy future in Finland.

Around the world we today have nearly 450 nuclear plants. If we were to replace all our CO2-polluting energy sources we would need over 1500 nuclear reactors by 2020 and over 3500 reactors by 2050. And as the majority of today’s nuclear reactors are using the rare uranium U-235 as fuel we would, according to reports, run out of U-235 within 60-80 years with today’s consumption. That means we would need to construct (and retrofit the existing nuclear reactors) breeder reactors that uses the more widely spread U-238 as fuel. These breeder reactors are even more expansive and take even longer to build than the “ordinary” nuclear reactors.

According to a new report released by Amory Lovins and Imran Sheikh nuclear energy will worsen climate change:

“A widely heralded view holds that nuclear power is experiencing a dramatic worldwide revival and vibrant growth, because it’s competitive, necessary, reliable, secure, and vital for fuel security and climate protection.

That’s all false. In fact, nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace because it’s grossly uncompetitive, unneeded, and obsolete—so hopelessly uneconomic that one needn’t debate whether it’s clean and safe; it weakens electric reliability and national security; and it worsens climate change compared with devoting the same money and time to more effective options.”

We simply don’t have the time needed for nuclear energy, and the money needed would be better and more productively spent on renewable energy.

3. Sweden already get nearly half of its energy from renewable energy sources, and the potential for more is huge

According to nuclear advocators Sweden can’t only rely on renewable energy and that it needs nuclear energy. But already today Sweden has the highest proportion of renewable energy in the EU. 43.3% of all energy and electricity generated already comes from renewable energy sources. That is nearly the same amount as nuclear energy generates in Sweden. According to reports from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) Sweden can decrease its energy usage with up to 40% by 2030. This would save us more energy than today’s nuclear plants actually generates. Besides energy efficiency the Swedish Energy Agency expects Sweden to generate another 30 TWh from wind power by 2020 and another 9 TWh from district heating by 2015. And even with these investments Sweden has the potential to invest even more in renewable energy as for example the total wind production would in 2020 still be much lower than in Germany.

4. Nuclear energy is dangerous

Just because nuclear energy might be a low carbon energy source doesn’t mean it’s environmentally friendly, renewable or safe.

In Sweden there has never happened any severe nuclear waste spill or a nuclear reactor disaster as the one in Chernobyl in 1986. But just last winter one of the reactors in Forsmark, one of Sweden’s nuclear power plants, was close to a severe radioactive disaster like the one in Chernobyl. And during the fall of 2008 three of Sweden’s 10 reactors were closed down due to security reasons which resulted in a cost of billions of Swedish Kronor.

New reports from around the world show that children living close to nuclear plants have a much higher chance of being killed in leukaemia than other children. In a German study in 2007 they found 77 cases of deadly leukaemia during a five years period among children living near a nuclear plant. That was more than 50% of what the scientists first expected to discover. So far the Swedish government, as well as the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, has refused to perform similar investigations near Swedish nuclear plants.

The toxic and highly dangerous nuclear waste generated by nuclear power will stay radioactive for over 100 000 years, which is ten times longer than what the human civilisation have existed. And so far there exists not a single safe and temporary solution to the nuclear waste problem. Instead the nuclear waste problems are being laid upon our children and future generations to deal with. It seems it’s not enough for the older generation to wreck the climate; they also want to create another huge and toxic environmental problem for the younger generation.

And don't forget about the fact that nuclear reactors can be potential targets for terrorists, as well as:

"Every state that has a nuclear power capability, has the means to obtain nuclear material usable in a nuclear weapon. Basically this means that the 44 nuclear power states could become 44 nuclear weapons states. Many nations that have active commercial nuclear power programs, began their research with two objectives - electricity generation and the option to develop
nuclear weapons
. Also nuclear programs based on reprocessing plutonium from spent fuel have dramatically increased the risk of proliferation as the creation of more plutonium, means more nuclear waste which in turn means more materials available for the creation of dirty bombs."

5. Nuclear energy is expensive

The high costs involved in the construction, maintaining and deconstruction of nuclear plants is another reason why nuclear energy shouldn’t be an option among sane people. The advocators of nuclear energy claim that compared to renewable energy nuclear energy is a much cheaper energy source. But that is not the whole truth.

Often this cost is based on nuclear energy from already existing reactors. Meaning they don’t have to take account the extremely high initial construction costs or deconstruction costs. If you account these two costs as well as the high maintaining cost for nuclear energy the claim that nuclear energy is a much cheaper energy source falls.

“The Bush-ite Coalition had an unerring knack of being resolutely incorrect or in denial about so many crucial matters – anthropogenic climate change, the reasons for war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the terrorist threat to Australia, and the cost of meeting the climate change crisis. They are also incorrect in relation to the nuclear option. As summarized in #16 above
the nuclear option is more expensive than current renewable wind and geothermal technologies
and as expensive as current concentrated solar technology. Further, the FULL nuclear cycle (from uranium mining and processing to waste disposal and plant de-commissioning) can be as expensive in terms of CO2 emissions as a gas-fired power station – and we still have the intractable security and waste disposal problems.”

Compared to nuclear energy the costs of renewable energy are falling. They already cost much les than nuclear to maintain once constructed. And calculations shows that the total costs of all renewable energy sources are, compared to nuclear energy, falling as the renewable energy sector becomes more and more developed.

The nuclear industry also doesn’t have to pay for any kind of insurance if an accident happens. This is because there is not a single insurance company in the world that wants to have a nuclear plant as its customer. In other words it means that the Government and you have to pay for everything if some accident were to happen. This also shows that nuclear energy can never be financed by private companies and needs government funding to survive, something that the renewable energy sector has no problem to live without.

“During the nuclear revival now allegedly underway, no new nuclear project on earth has been financed by private risk capital, chosen by an open decision process, nor bid into the world’s innumerable power markets and auctions. No old nuclear plant has been resold at a value consistent with a market case for building a new one.”

A great example of the cost for nuclear energy versus renewable energy in terms of costs is the proposed nuclear reactor in Turkey:

"Today, the bidding consortium announced how much the electricity produced by the new plant would cost: 21 cents per kilowatt hour. That's three times the current average price of electricity in Turkey. Electricity would have to triple in price before the reactor became economically viable.

This would make Turkey's reactor the most expensive electricity generating power plant in the world.. Wind power by comparison is currently generating electricity at one third of this offer."

And don’t forget that nuclear energy is not a renewable energy source. As the nuclear consumption increases the nuclear fuel will become more and more expensive, just like the case is with oil today.

6. Nuclear energy won't give us more jobs

Another argument against nuclear energy, especially now when we are in a global financial crisis, is that it won’t give us any more new jobs.

The heavy industry in Sweden which uses large amounts of energy often say that without nuclear energy they would get higher energy costs which would force them leave the country. But as I showed above nuclear energy is actually quite expensive, and it doesn’t help that the energy price in Sweden is based on the current market-price in Europe. So it doesn’t really matter how many energy sources we develop, we will still need to pay the same market-price as the rest of Europe.

If you compare how many jobs renewable and nuclear energy creates, well then the safe and renewable energy sector clearly wins. The industry organisation Swedish Wind Energy says that wind power alone could create over 12000 new jobs in Sweden. Other statistics also show that the maintaining of wind farms and other renewable energy sources creates more jobs compared to nuclear energy. A great example of this is Germany where the nuclear industry only supplies 35000 people with jobs while the renewable energy sector employs over 120000 people. The wind sector alone employs over 53000 people, and yet it’s just a small portion of the energy market in Germany.

Al Gore is so correct when he says that "the solution to the climate crisis will also help us solve the economic crisis":

"The challenges we face are immense – a global economy in crisis, and two ongoing wars. However, the solution to the climate crisis will also help us solve the economic crisis by putting people to work in green jobs and stimulating the economy with the large investment necessary to convert our energy infrastructure to renewable energy."

7. Do you want a uranium mine in your backyard?

Well would you? If the right-wing government gets what it wants the next broken promise to the Swedish people would be the ban on toxic uranium mines. Since 2005 many companies from around the world have been allowed into to Sweden to search for potential places to start up uranium mines. This is mainly due to the fact that Centerpartiet (Centre Party) and Kristdemokraterna (Christian Democrats), who are all part of the current government in Sweden, voted no to continue the ban on uranium mines in 2007. They’ve had previously promised to vote yes for a continuation of the ban. Today Centerpartiet (Centre Party) are the main pushers for more nuclear energy in Sweden, something they a few years ago would never support. So, as the fuel prices for nuclear plants keep rising and a potential investment in new nuclear reactors it seems it’s only a matter of time before toxic uranium mines will be opened in Sweden. Are you really sure you want to have a uranium mine in your backyard?

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