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Sweden: Vattenfall determined to close 2 aging nuclear reactors

A Tiny Hole at Sweden’s Oldest Atomic Plant Upends Nuclear Revival
Industry and lawmakers in Sweden want Vattenfall to reverse a decision to close two aging reactors.
Bloomberg, By Jesper Starn, May 20, 2019

A hole just a few millimeters deep at Sweden’s oldest nuclear plant is upending the debate about whether to revive the technology to ensure that the Nordic region’s biggest economy has enough power. 

Regulators assume such a small gap exists at the Ringhals-2 plant on the nation’s west coast because repairs to similar cavities were made earlier in the decade on about half of an area covering 700 square meters (7,535 square feet). The owner Vattenfall AB won’t carry out more costly repairs and its permit expires at the end of the year.

While the state-controlled power company doubts that further faults exist, it would rather scrap the plant than uproot the meter-thick slab of concrete surrounding the massive steel plates that make up the reactor containment……..

For the moment, Vattenfall isn’t budging on the decision it made in 2015 to wind down operations at the plant, which includes two reactors that  began operations in 1975 and 1976. Those reactors lack the independent core cooling systems required by the regulator for all nuclear plants to operate after 2020. Vattenfall invested 900 million kronor ($93 million) to upgrade two younger reactors at the site.

“I regard it as completely ruled out, both technically and financially,” to reverse the decision to close the Ringhals reactors, Torbjorn Wahlborg, the company’s head of generation, said in an interview.  “It would require such a big investment and long halts.”

At its peak, nuclear energy accounted for about half of the nation’s power. Hydroelectric plants covered the rest. Now it’s 40%  and wind parks being built in the north of the country are seen as a major future source. The problem is that the growth of wind has not been able to match the decline in capacity at reactors and  fossil-fuel plants and Sweden is already depending on imports to meet demand on cold winter days.

A Sifo poll from March show that two thirds of Swedes want to keep or build more reactors. 

 In 2016, five political parties formed a long-term energy agreement that lowered nuclear taxes enough to allow life-span extensions of six reactors built in the 1980s until the 2040s, while four older reactors would be shut. But the largest opposition party, the Moderates, is now threatening to abandon that agreement unless it’s renegotiated to be more supportive of nuclear power. It has the support of the Christian Democrats, which is also part of the accord.

The Liberals, which were not part of the deal, has also proposed to extend the lifespan of Ringhals 1 and 2, and may get support from the nationalist Sweden Democrats, which also wants to invest in nuclear. The Moderates and the Christian Democrats have called for a review to be made into the possibility to stop the closure of the two reactors.

Still, it would be an uphill battle to garner enough support for any new energy plan, as the remaining parties in the agreement together with the Left Party have a majority in parliament. It all hinges on the governing Social Democrats. It wants nuclear power to be gradually phased out, but is under pressure from Swedish industry to change its stance.

As Vattenfall is fully state-owned,  the government could adjust its directive to extend the life-span of the reactors. Lobby groups for the forest, metals, chemical and mining industry are calling for an investigation to see if this is possible. This would however be against the spirit of the original agreement, where market-based decisions was a key-part to get parties with opposing views to compromise on energy, according to the Swedish government. ……


May 21, 2019 - Posted by | politics, Sweden

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