Sweden: progressive or regressive?

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Ah, Sweden, progressive Sweden, a land rightly proud of its generous social welfare system with its excellent schools, health care and pensions. It is a country forward-looking in every sense.

Except when it comes to nuclear power. Last week Sweden’s parliament narrowly voted 174 to 172 to overturn the referendum held 30 years ago that demanded the phasing out of the country’s nuclear reactors. Going back to a failed and discredited 60 year-old energy source? That’s not very progressive.

In fact it’s positively regressive. Did the members of parliament not look next door to their neighbour Finland where the only new reactor being built in Europe is currently 2.3 billion euros over budget and four years late? Did they not look at the less-than-illustrious history of Sweden’s own nuclear reactors, including one that came close to causing a reactor meltdown in the country in 2006? It’s all rather backward-looking. It’s a particularly strange decision when you consider Sweden has one of the largest shares of renewable energy in the European Union. Biomass now outstrips oil as Sweden’s top method of energy generation.

It all, however, would appear to be only a vague aspiration to return to nuclear power. As the UK Daily Telegraph’s Geoffrey Lean points out, the new reactors can only be built to replace the existing ones which currently are expected (further possible mishaps permitting) to operate until 2030. Like the rest of the world, it looks like Sweden will have a long wait for its nuclear ‘renaissance’. And with opposition parties promising to overturn last week’s vote, it may not happen at all.

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