Political And Market Factors Lead To Closure Of Nuclear Reactors: A Perfect Storm

Credit: Henrik

The accusations hail in the electoral movement: Whose fault was it that Swedish reactors have been closed? The reality behind the slogans is that all parties except SD and V have been deeply involved in creating the situation that has given less nuclear power and higher electricity prices.

It became a perfect storm, says technology historian Per Högelius.

The 2022 election has already been named the energy election by political scientists. Not least, it was a struggle for history writing: Who was guilty of the precarious situation in which Sweden ended up, with rampant electricity prices that risked cracking both households and companies?

Magda prices, said the Moderates. Putin prices, the Social Democrats said.

At the center of the debate was nuclear power. Why had Swedish reactors closed prematurely, with reduced electricity generation as a result?

The right side identified this as a potential winning question in a time of electric crisis. In addition, nuclear power was a putty in the scattered coalition that went for a change of power.

The arguments soon left and there were two versions. According to the right side, red -green governments through political cushion and incompetence had ruined an almost perfect electrical system. According to the second, politics had played a more or less negligible role. Social Democrats and center parties pointed to the market forces and two their hands.

In fact, there have been many chefs about the soup that became 2022 years of electric crisis. Various governments and parties on both sides of the block boundary have for many years been wrestling with a basic question:

What Should The Policy do, And What Should be Handed Over to The Market?

This was a hot potato already when the Alliance government took office in 2006. Previous bourgeois governments had burst on the nuclear issue.

Both Fredrik Reinfeldt (M) and Maud Olofsson (C) understood that they had to redeem it.

When the alliance government took office in the autumn of 2006, it was less than four years left until nuclear power would have been completely discontinued in Sweden. After the 1980 referendum in 1980, the Riksdag decided that the last reactor should be closed by 2010. But in 1997 the S-government abandoned an end date for the settlement and no new far limit was set.

That was what the nuclear issue looked like for the newly appointed Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (M). Admittedly, a second reactor in Barsebäck had just closed, but in other nuclear power plants the production rolled on.

The electricity suppliers made good profits and the outgoing S-government had recently raised the so-called power tax on nuclear power to take back some of the surplus to the Treasury. It was not something that the alliance government opposed, on the contrary. Finance Minister Anders Borg (M) followed the former government’s example and further raised the power tax.

But the large restructuring of energy policy remained. In 2009, the four bourgeois parties reached an agreement in which both the Center Party and the Christian Democrats abandoned their former nuclear resistance and instead agreed that in certain circumstances it would be allowed to build new reactors.

I thought I would be able to resign because of that energy agreement. When I came to our municipal days in Visby, even people greeted me. They were furious, recalls the then C leader and Minister of Business Affairs Maud Olofsson.

Nuclear power would no longer have any government subsidies and nuclear power owners were given increased liability for major accidents. M, KD, FP and C agreed that it would no longer be the policy that decided on the future of nuclear power, the market would manage through strictly commercial assessments.

At the same time, the government decided on an expansion of renewable energy to reduce vulnerability in the energy system. The tool was the so -called electricity certificates, which in practice meant subsidies to wind power.

It was a historical settlement. But less than a year after it was approved by the Riksdag, the playing field was redirected by events on the other side of the globe.

At 14.46 on March 11, 2011, an earthquake occurred on the seabed east of Japan. The quake gave rise to a tsunami wave that soaked the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Radioactive cesium corresponding to 168 Hiroshima Bombs spread in the atmosphere.

In Sweden as in many other countries, the accident led to extensive tightening of the safety requirements. Nuclear power companies were facing multi -billion investments. In addition, some reactors, which approached the end of their life, suffered from other deficiencies that required costly measures.

At the same time, the expansion of wind power took off seriously, with the support of the system of electricity certificates that had been strengthened by the Alliance government. The technological development also made the wind turbines more cost -effective. The electricity price was pressed down to record low levels. The investors’ calculations clearly spoke in favor of wind power.

Cheap electricity, a surplus that could be exported, a strong expansion for the renewable. The situation could be bright when the second term of the Alliance government came to an end. But under the surface, the problems, such as the bottlenecks in the network, deceived between the electricity areas that had been introduced in 2011.

And some investments in new nuclear power were not seen. On the contrary. In January 2014, the owner company OKG announced that the oldest reactor in Oskarshamn would be dismissed.

Nuclear power had ended up in the headwind. It would soon increase.

When the Environment Party was founded in 1981, the opposition to nuclear power was one of the driving forces. For environmental parties, it was much more than kilowatt hours and power balances. It was a deeply ideological question of responsibility for nature and future generations.

It would take 33 years, but in September 2014, MP had direct influence over the issue when the party took over government power together with the Social Democrats. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven himself was a nuclear friend since his time as a base for the industrial union Metall, but in his party there were different views. In the new government, compromises with the green government were inevitable.

In the electoral movement, the MP had not humbled that they wanted to see closures of reactors during the coming term. But according to Åsa Romson, who became Minister of Climate and Environment, MP had accepted the idea that the ultimate decisions would be made by the market players.

– We had landed that politics would not go in and control, as when Barsebäck was closed down. Instead, we would work with the financial incentives so that they became more governing. This way of thinking about the role of the market was already established through the bourgeois energy settlement, says Åsa Romson, today researchers at the Swedish Environmental Institute IVL.

MP wanted to place greater financial responsibility on nuclear power companies, both for the waste and in the event of accidents. According to environmental parties, it was about abolishing hidden subsidies. For the nuclear power companies, there was another minus post in the finances.

In addition, the red -green government put on yet another increase in the power tax.

Then came the message from Vattenfall: the reactors 1 and 2 in Ringhals would be closed down for a few years.

There was no pressure from the political side. It was a purely commercial decision, said the then Chairman of the Board Lars G Nordström in an interview with SvD last year.

Moderate Mikael Odenberg was Director General of Svenska Kraftnät at this time, and had previously been his party’s energy policy spokesperson. His definite view is that the effect tax played a major role but that several parties share responsibility.

The last increase was made by Magdalena Andersson but the largest was made by Anders Borg. The parties were equally good cabbage soups, they built the tax to unreasonable heights. Just saying that there were evil socialists and environmental partners, that’s just not true, says Mikael Odenberg.

Per Högelius, professor of technology history at KTH, describes the circumstances surrounding the closure decisions as “a perfect storm” where many factors coincided.

There is a political component in it but the story is much more complex than that. I would say that there are other factors that are considering.

Per Högelius points to the low electricity prices that made the nuclear power unprofitable and expensive safety requirements after Fukushima. But since the margins were already small, each tax increase became noticeable.

But the last increase was not many percent and in practice had no big significance. They had probably given up during this perfect storm even though it was not a nuclear skeptical government. There was no economy in building new nuclear power plants and that was the impression that prevailed, says Per Högelius.

When the closure message came from Vattenfall, Stefan Löfven had already concluded that a broader political grip was required. Prime Minister Ibrahim Baylan was commissioned to lead an energy commission. It was also a way to create a counterbalance to MP’s radical line. The goal was an agreement that would hold over the change of power.

Ibrahim Baylan today does not want to comment, citing that he left politics. But S-sources state for DN that the business community was also strongly driving for a broad settlement. They wanted a long -term perspective.

The end result was in many ways a continuation of the Alliance’s energy settlement from 2009. New reactors would still be built in the places where the nuclear power plants are today. No closures would be made through political decisions. A goal had been set about a completely renewable electrical system in 2040, but it did not prohibit nuclear power beyond that year.

And the power tax was phased out.

Former center leader Maud Olofsson had at this time left politics and sat on the board of the organization Svenskt Näringsliv. There, the Energy Commission was a given topic of conversation.

Vattenfall knew very well that it was discussed to remove the power tax in the energy settlement, says Maud Olofsson.

The decision to close the ring neck reactors was still firm. It was also not a big issue in the Energy Commission, according to sources with transparency. The discussions had a longer future perspective. And when five parties had agreed (S, MP, M, KD, C), the Moderates’ message was that nuclear power had been rescued.

The long-term perspective no longer extended than until the evening of August 14, 2018. Then the KD leader Ebba Busch surprised everyone, both allies and opponents, in a TV debate start to propagate for more nuclear power plants. It was a big and surprising step for a party that has been pronounced nuclear opponents for many years.

Didn’t They Agree That Now The Market Would be Able to Manage That?

The ball was rolling. Nuclear power became a winning question for KD in the election. The Moderates were hit by doubt, which was diluted by the insight into how much more electricity Sweden would need to cope with the climate change. For their part, 2019 became a long drawn -out goodbye to the agreement that would give the market long -term rules of the game. But before the final collapse, the Moderates and KD were able to vote no in Parliament 2019 to restart the closed reactors in Ringhals. The proposal came from the Swedish Democrats, together with the Left Party the only party that was outside both 2009 and 2016 energy settlements.

By 2020, the Moderates had changed and voted yes in a new vote on restart in Ringhals. By then, nuclear power had become more than an energy issue. It had become a putty in a right -wing coalition in the making.

When Ulf Kristersson took over the Prime Minister’s post last fall, it was with a promise of more nuclear power. And this should partly be done by abandoning the basic idea from the previous agreements that it is the market that will control the expansion. The government parties and the Swedish Democrats want to subsidize nuclear power through credit guarantees in the multibillion class and a pricing that benefits nuclear power over other types of power. It is a line that former C leader Maud Olofsson has difficulty understanding.

I had never thought that a bourgeois government would start with planning economic energy policy. It is so socialist that you do not understand. It is not the policy that will decide what power we should have, she says.

Despite today’s energy crisis, Åsa Romson still believes that the policy that contributed to the closure of reactors was right – for security reasons. But on the other hand, she sees another weakness afterwards: no one has any overall responsibility for delivery security throughout the country.

The liberalization of the market has gone very far. It would have benefited Sweden if we had come further with a regulation that was more from social benefits and not just if it is possible to find a market. Then we had been better equipped now and not got the same shock from the high electricity prices, says Åsa Romson.

The business community is now calling for that politicians are gathering again in broad consensus. It is necessary also considers Cecilie Tenfjord Toftby, who was a moderate member of the Energy Commission. But then, according to her, the energy industry must get a clearer message than the parties gave in 2016.

The strength of that settlement was that it was cross -border. We had hopes that there would be new nuclear power, but we still hear from the industry that the uncertainty is too great. Reality has changed rapidly and then politics has a responsibility to deliver on it.

This article is originally published on dn.se