Europe’s Nuclear Regret: Sweden Moves To Redress The Nuclear Exit

Highlights :

  • Sweden’s parliament officially abandoned its goal of achieving 100 per cent renewable energy to reach net-zero emissions by 2045
  • The hasty shutdown of Nuclear Power across Europe led to the increase in coal energy usage
Europe’s Nuclear Regret: Sweden Moves To Redress The Nuclear Exit

Sweden, over four decades after deciding to phase out nuclear power, is now considering the construction of additional nuclear reactors. This shift comes as the country’s parliament officially abandoned its goal of achieving 100 per cent renewable energy to reach net-zero emissions by 2045.

Sweden recently revised its net-zero targets to focus on achieving 100 per cent “fossil-free” energy. This change, supported by the  government, paves the way for the reintroduction of nuclear power into the country’s energy portfolio. The move is unlikely to be seen as a surprise in the EU, where the EU parliament has already moved to label both nuclear and even gas as ‘green’.

“We need more electricity production, we need clean electricity and we need a stable energy system,” Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson said in parliament. In one line stressing the limitations the country faces from solar and wind energy, the preferred pathway to achieve the same purpose for many other countries. Sweden faces limitations on both due to geographical issues. Nuclear power currently contributes close to 30% of its electricity needs for Sweden, following Hydro power at 45%. Thus, the definition of nuclear as a clean and green energy source would ease the country’s road to net zero significantly.

Groups like Net Zero Watch, which have criticised the net zero  ambitions of many countries as impractical. Their argument is that the net zero plans outlined by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which serve as the foundation for countries like even Canada’s own net zero initiatives, are excessively costly and will lead to significant reductions in living standards for all but the wealthiest individuals.

“Living close to Russia focuses the mind, and the Swedish people not only wish to join NATO but also to ground their economy in an energy source, nuclear, that is physically sound and secure, unlike renewables which are neither,” said Dr John Constable, NZW’s energy director.

He further argued that the UK has every reason to follow Sweden’s lead and should go even further by increasing the use of natural gas. He also claimed that the current UK climate policies are ill-informed and will almost certainly fail to deliver Net Zero emissions by 2050, running a high risk of deep and irreversible societal damage. The UK has been progressively shutting down its nuclear plants as they reach their end of age, instead of extending their lifespans, as many people now believe.

Was the EU’s Nuclear Shutdown Policy a Folly?

Nuclear energy serves as a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels and plays a significant role in the energy portfolios of 13 out of the 27 EU Member States, contributing to nearly 26 per cent of the EU’s electricity generation. A standout of course is France, where nuclear power regularly reaches over 70% of all power generation.

Nevertheless, due to the controversial nature of nuclear energy following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, its use remains a topic of debate. Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear energy and the temporary closure of two Belgian reactors due to vessel cracks have increased calls for the abandonment of nuclear power within the EU.

This has led to an increase in the region’s reliance on coal and natural gas to meet their energy requirement. However, the Russia-Ukraine war further put stress on energy security by choking the natural gas supply. In the backdrop of war, the plan to stop dependency on Russian gas by IEA and the European Commission included a push for alternate energy sources like renewables, even as it remained cold to nuclear power. While the IEA recommended plan for keeping existing nuclear plants operating, the one from the EU made no explicit reference to nuclear power at all.

Thus, even as the debate rages on, detractors hope that the delays will continue to undercut the case for nuclear. That is because without fresh investment to replace and extend the lifetime of Europe’s existing nuclear power reactors, over half od the EU’s nuclear reactor fleet might be shut by 2050. With large-scale projects for new nuclear power plants requiring high capital costs, long construction periods, and risks of potential delays related to supply chain issues, legal challenges, regulation and licensing, besides political risk, the experience in even countries like France for new plants has been none too happy.

"Want to be featured here or have news to share? Write to info[at]