On January 11, 2023, the Swedish government sent a proposal for amended rules regarding nuclear power plants and reactors for review by stakeholders.
The new rules would allow the Swedish government to approve nuclear power plants and nuclear reactors at locations where there has previously not been a nuclear power plant.
The proposal was sent to 96 stakeholders, including government agencies (such as the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Public Health Agency of Sweden, the Swedish Energy Market’s Inspectorate, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, and the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority), 34 municipalities, universities, environmental courts, and energy companies and interest groups. By law, only government agencies are required to respond to the request for review statements, while other stakeholders are invited to provide comments. In addition, stakeholders and private persons not mentioned in the list may provide their own comments on the proposal.
Under the current rules, as specified in the Environmental Code (Miljöbalken (SFS 1998:808)) and the Act on Nuclear Technological Activity (Lag om kärnteknisk verksamhet (SFS 1984:3)), the government can approve the creation of new power plant reactors only at sites that currently have or previously had nuclear power plant reactors and that are now being replaced.
Specifically, the Environmental Code provides three conditions that must be met for the Swedish government to approve a new nuclear reactor. First, the new reactor must be meant to replace a reactor that went into use after May 31, 2005. Second, the reactor that it replaces must be permanently shut down once the new reactor becomes operational. Third, it must be located in the place where the reactor it is replacing was located. (17 ch. 6a § Environmental Code.)
The Proposed Rules
The new rules would amend the Environmental Code and the Act on Nuclear Technological Activity by scrapping these requirements and allowing new reactors to be established in areas where nuclear power plants or reactors have previously not been located. Under the new rules, approval of a new site for a nuclear power plant would still require an endorsement from the municipality in which the nuclear power plant would be created, as currently specified in chapter 17, section 6 of the Environmental Code.
As specified in its proposal, the government is justifying the changes on the basis of a significant increase in the need for electricity, as evidenced by recent electricity shortages that created spikes in the price of electricity during 2022, and a change in nuclear power technology through the development of advanced small modular reactors (SMPs). According to the government, the transportation industry in particular and Swedish industry in general have seen an increase in demand for electricity as they move away from fossil fuels and toward electrification.
History of Swedish Nuclear Power Policy
In 1980, Sweden held a national referendum on the future of nuclear power plants that set the overall policy for nuclear power in Sweden. The referendum included three different “lines” (linjer), each advocating an eventual end to nuclear power. Line 1 proposed a ban on new nuclear plants and the termination of nuclear power as other energy sources became available. Line 2 mirrored line 1 with the addendum that all nuclear energy plants must be publicly owned by the state or local municipalities. Line 3 was a definite rejection of nuclear power and included a requirement that all current nuclear power be terminated within 10 years. Because Line 1 and 2 together produced a majority of the votes, a long-term, slow phaseout of nuclear power was seen as the winning result. The resulting policy was a ban on new production of nuclear power plants but not a set deadline for the ultimate phaseout of nuclear power. Following changes in 2010 to the Environmental Code, nuclear reactors could be replaced if they got too old.
Between 2017 and 2022, four power plant reactors were closed prematurely in Sweden due to taxes making them unprofitable. Currently six nuclear reactors are operating across three nuclear power plants in Sweden with a planned operational life until about 2040.
The Swedish government has previously assigned the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority to investigate the legal framework for how old and new nuclear power technology (including SMR) plants could be best utilized in Sweden, and an initial report is due on February 28, 2023, followed by a full report by July 31, 2023.
Deadline for the Review
The deadline for responding to the stakeholder review is April 10, 2023. For the changes to be adopted, the parliament must approve them. If adopted, the proposal in its current form is currently scheduled to take effect on March 1, 2024.
Elin Hofverberg, Law Library of Congress
February 3, 2023
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