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London: Sweden’s parliament has dumped its 100 per cent renewable target amid ongoing concerns about short-term energy security as it looks to join several European nations to build new nuclear plants.
The country’s governing centre-right coalition, headed by Moderate Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, recently joined 11 fellow European Union members in an informal group of member states called the Nuclear Alliance, with the objective to strengthen cooperation in energy generation.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.Credit: Getty Images
As a result, the government has now changed its legislated climate targets to 100 per cent “fossil-free” energy – meaning no coal or gas – by 2040 and carbon-neutral by 2045. It means that nuclear generation can count towards the government’s energy targets.
Sweden is already among the world’s leaders in transitioning to a clean energy economy, with around 98 per cent of electricity generated from hydropower, nuclear, and wind. It generated a record 27 per cent of electricity from wind in February, narrowly beating a 26 per cent record set in January this year.
The country’s three operational nuclear power plants with six operational reactors generated around 30 per cent of Sweden’s electricity production in 2022.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has forced Europe to turn its focus on energy security has it has tried to wean itself away from Russian gas exports. The EU has positioned itself as a leader in climate policy, targeting a 55 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions on 1990s levels by 2030 and net-zero by 2050.
Swedish Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson said the current circumstances had created conditions for nuclear power, despite a decision 40 years ago to phase out the technology.
“We need more electricity production, we need clean electricity and we need a stable energy system,” she said.
Vattenfall, Sweden’s state-owned utility, plans to build at least two small modular reactors and extend the lifetime of the country’s existing nuclear reactors.
The country has among the largest uranium reserves in Europe but has banned uranium mining since 2018. Today its uranium is imported from Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan. The government will also attempt to overturn a ban and several legislative hurdles over where it can build new plants.
Elisabeth Svantesson, Sweden’s finance minister.Credit: Bloomberg
Environmental campaigners, including Greens MPs, have criticised the recent changes to Sweden’s energy policy, saying it clashes with the country’s previous identity as a climate leader. The government also plans to cut the bio-fuel mix in petrol and diesel, leading to greater carbon emissions, which could impact the country’s 2030 emission goals.
The EU remains split on the role of nuclear energy, which critics say is too expensive, takes too long to build and is unsafe, when it comes to the transition to a net-zero economy.
France, which generates almost 70 per cent of its energy from nuclear, is its biggest proponent while Germany chose last year to fire-up mothball coal-fired plants instead of reconsidering the scheduled shutdown of its last reactors.
The Swedish government has promised generous loan guarantees because it believes new reactors are essential to power the shift towards net-zero emissions.
Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, upset EU plans to phase out fossil fuel subsidies earlier this year when it put forward a motion to allow countries to prolong capacity mechanism subsidies for coal power plants that pay generators to keep capacity on standby to avoid blackouts.
Energy Minister Ebba Busch said at the time ensuring Poland, which borders Ukraine, had stable power generation could help it support Ukraine with back-up power. Poland, which gets around 70 per cent of its power from coal, could have prolonged its support scheme for coal plants, potentially until 2028, under the proposal.
A new report on Tuesday found the EU remains at risk of failing to meet its 2030 climate change targets, owing to uncertainty over whether sufficient funds we being invested in the low-carbon technologies.
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