What may have been one of the most significant decisions in terms of an industrialized nation’s environment, progress, and growth was made last year. And while it dealt with a controversial issue that has gripped Americans for more than two decades, it received little media attention here.
In June, 1988, the Swedish parliament voted to eliminate all nuclear power by the year 2010.
Despite electricity prices which are expected to soar and possible job losses in the hundred thousands, the extraordinary decision found broad-based support from both the general public and the labor unions.
Swedish officials hope their action sets an international example. “If we show there are good alternatives to nuclear power, we might be able to persuade others,” says Environment and Energy Minister Birgitta Dahl.
Ironically, Sweden gets a much larger percentage, 45%, of its electricity from nuclear reactors than most other countries, and, unlike other countries, has had few problems with its nuclear program.
Since Sweden has no oil, gas, or coal of its own, many estimates see electricity prices rising 60 to 70 percent by 2010.
So far, the most promising replacement power program has been a 13-year-old wind-power program which has built two full-scale prototype plants with giant windmills on the coast. Sweden’s National Energy Administration reported, however, that at best the wind-produced power will cost four times as much as the current prices. Other possible solutions being examined include peat and wood burning, hydropower on currently restricted rivers, and importing coal and gas.
The government is putting more money into research and already preparing its citizens for huge price increases by raising electricity prices charged by the state-owned utility.
To some in Sweden, the supreme irony is that the safety and environmental concerns that set off the entire antinuclear movement there will not really be addressed. “How will we be safer when outside our borders there are 80 reactors as close as Chernobyl?” asked Curt Nicolin, chairman of a Swedish engineering firm that builds nuclear plants. Sweden’s nuclear fears were intensified by the 1986 accident at Chernobyl that spewed a cloud of radiation across Sweden.
Sweden’s action may not set much of an example in the United States if our media don’t think it is newsworthy.
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, 7/18/88, “Rebottling the nuclear genie,” by Pamela Sherrid, p 43.