Environmental and health impacts of a policy to phase out nuclear power in Sweden

With Dr Staffan Qvist from Uppsala University, I’ve just had published a new open access paper in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy. It examines the ramifications of the announced policy by the Swedish Greens Party (who is part of the current coalition government) to phase out nuclear energy in Sweden. Their platform is: “we oppose the construction of new reactors in Sweden, or an increase in the output of existing reactors, and instead want to begin immediately phasing out nuclear power.”

The electricity mix of Sweden is a leading example of a successful historical pathway to decarbonisation.

Some details on our paper:


Qvist, S.A. & Brook, B.W. (2015) Environmental and health impacts of a policy to phase out nuclear energy in Sweden. Energy Policy, 84, 1-10. doi: 1016/j.enpol.2015.04.023


• The Swedish reactor fleet has a remaining potential production of up to 2100 TWh.

• Forced shut down would result in up to 2.1 Gt of additional CO2 emissions.

• 50,000–60,000 energy-related-deaths could be prevented by continued operation.

• A nuclear phase-out would mean a retrograde step for climate, health and economy.


Nuclear power faces an uncertain future in Sweden. Major political parties, including the Green party of the coalition-government have recently strongly advocated for a policy to decommission the Swedish nuclear fleet prematurely. Here we examine the environmental, health and (to a lesser extent) economic impacts of implementing such a plan. The process has already been started through the early shutdown of the Barsebäck plant. We estimate that the political decision to shut down Barsebäck has resulted in ~2400 avoidable energy-production-related deaths and an increase in global CO2 emissions of 95 million tonnes to date (October 2014). The Swedish reactor fleet as a whole has reached just past its halfway point of production, and has a remaining potential production of up to 2100 TWh. The reactors have the potential of preventing 1.9–2.1 gigatonnes of future CO2-emissions if allowed to operate their full lifespans. The potential for future prevention of energy-related-deaths is 50,000–60,000. We estimate an 800 billion SEK (120 billion USD) lower-bound estimate for the lost tax revenue from an early phase-out policy. In sum, the evidence shows that implementing a ‘nuclear-free’ policy for Sweden (or countries in a similar situation) would constitute a highly retrograde step for climate, health and economic protection.

You can read the full paper here.

Staffan and I would welcome your feedback, and please do publicize it! (remember, it is free to access) The final decision in Sweden has not yet been made, and so at this stage, public appreciation of the situation, and its potentially damning consequences for Sweden’s carbon emissions and climate policy, must be widely known!



  1. How much does it cost to reduce carbon emissions http://canadianenergyissues.com/2014/01/29/how-much-does-it-cost-to-reduce-carbon-emissions-a-primer-on-electricity-infrastructure-planning-in-the-age-of-climate-change/

    Slide 10 in this presentation plots CO2 emisisons intensity of electricity v electricity costs for a selection of countries/states with high proportion of nuclear and a high proportion of renewables.

    Also, not the irony in Slide 14.


  2. The Greens around the world, including in Sweden continue to be a menace in world future emissions free electricity production. Thankfully, they are being ignored by rational, thinking people if the obvious nuclear build programme happening around the world is any indication. They owe the world an apology for their mindless opposition towards nuclear power. They will never be persuaded by fact or reason. They don’t bother with research, have a complete disregard for logic and are generally unwilling to engage in civil discussion. As I said, they’re a menace. Here in South Australia, we must keep them sidelined, as it appears that we might just be getting the necessary bipartisanship for nuclear power etc between the Labor and Liberal parties. Once we get that, the Greens will become irrelevant.


  3. Are the fossil fuel mixes in the latter parts of the paper to draw a comparison on emissions and mortality based on a projected scenario of what Sweden will deploy, or just used for the sake of comparison?

    Did your research uncover any other projected plans, maybe from Vattenfall, other than the usual Green “100% renewable” suggestion?


  4. As noted in the paper’s Discussion section, no plans have been put forth to explain what will be replacing the lost capacity. Given this lack of technical details or analysis offered on alternatives, we were forced to base replacements comparisons on current dispatchable technologies. In the Conclusion we note: “Given that no plausible alternative energy plan has been mapped out by proponents of the nuclear phase-out policy, and faced with the inherent daily and seasonal limitations on wind and solar energy in Scandinavia, it appears virtually certain that the bulk of the missing electricity supply will be met by some combination of imported fossil fuels and new combustion-based power plants.”

    We are now working on another paper looking at the broader feasibility/cost question of a hypothetical technosolar alternative for Sweden.


  5. Typical short-sighted energy policy by a Greens party. Thanks for the response, I was wondering if you came across something.

    Most likely the solution for them is token solar, wind, and biomass. Possibly Hydro if the Greens in Sweden aren’t shy of it, like here in Australia. Probably Vattenfall may approve of that as their Coal assets in Germany may get a reprieve for Northern exports.

    Thoughts of modelling Biomass as commonly deployed in Germany?


  6. Interesting comment from my co-author, Staffan:

    “To their credit, the greens of the current government have come up with a quite clever way to phase out nuclear. The law allowing new-build still stands but has been rendered moot due to the implementation and subsequent increases in a nuclear-specific tax called the “effect tax” (separate from the tax paid to finance the repository). It’s a tax of about $25000/MW-thermal of installed power per year, to be paid monthly, even if the plant is not in operation. It is thus completely disconnected from electricity production, and is only levied on nuclear. The extra tax of $100m/year per large reactor, on top of all other taxes, plus the heavy subsidy of construction of large amounts of un-needed wind and solar and the dumping of cheap coal on the European market means that at current electricity prices some of the nuclear plants are “economically uncompetitive”. The government then claims that nuclear “can’t compete in the market”, nuclear proceeds to decommission itself, without any law imposed for this and any settlement payments.”


  7. Barsebeck is built above an active fault line right in the center of the richest region in Scandinavia only 20 kilometer from the city center in Copenhagen. Probably not the best location for a nuclear power plant.

    The problem for the nuclear fleet in Sweden is that during the spring there is excess hydropower in Scandinavia and the rapid development of wind and solar power capacity has made demand for power from nuclear more fluctuating. If you look at this record of the Swedish nuclear output page 31 you will notice that in 2008 the average capacity factor was 79% and in 2009 it was 64% http://www.svenskenergi.se/Global/Statistik/El%C3%A5ret/Sv%20Energi_el%C3%A5ret2013_versJUNI2014.pdf

    The aging nuclear fleet has seen an increase in maintenance cost, which is most likely a contributing factor to this recent announcement from Vattenfall. http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Vattenfall-opts-for-early-closure-of-Ringhals-units-2804154.html

    In the above link there is no mentioning of the recently discovered construction error, which has led to termination of the production from these two reactors. The original Vattenfall statement is available in Swedish so interested readers must use Google translate. http://corporate.vattenfall.se/om-oss/var-verksamhet/var-elproduktion/ringhals/produktion-och-driftlage/

    The policy makers in Sweden cannot in the longer run protect the owners of nuclear power plants from competition but to secure larger markets for Swedish electricity including nuclear they build more HVDC connections to Germany where the wholesale electricity prices are significantly higher than in Scandinavia. http://www.50hertz.com/en/Media/News/Details-en-US/newsId/718/title/Swedish-German-cooperation-on-electricity-connection-Hansa-PowerBridge and http://www.ens.dk/sites/ens.dk/files/supply/renewable-energy/wind-power/offshore-wind-power/new-offshore-wind-tenders/kf_technical_project_description_final_draft_06_may_2013.pdf


  8. Jens: I note your remark about the alleged fault under the Swedish reactor.

    Famously, three reactors in Japan were destroyed by an earthquake. How many people died in that event?

    Does that event, which is, um, very unlikely in Sweden compare with the number of deaths associated with the air pollution associated with the dangerous fossil fuel waste released when Japan shut its reactors to see if they’re “safe?”

    Which killed more people in the earthquake in Japan, radiation or buildings?

    Are you on a crusade to shut down any buildings near earthquake faults.

    About 7 million people die each year from air pollution. That works out to about 800 people per hour. Can you assert any case in the 50 year history of nuclear power where any earthquake related event in which reactors were involved killed as many people as will die in the next hour from a nuclear involved earthquake.

    If fear and ignorance is allowed to shut a Swedish reactor, people will be killed by the decision.

    That’s a certainty.

    Have a nice day.


Comments are closed.