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Power on

June 18, 2010

Sweden's parliament has paved the way for the replacement of old nuclear reactors in the country. But with the opposition staunchly opposed and elections months away, the debate over nuclear power is far from over.

Nuclear power plant
Nuclear energy is a contentious issue in EuropeImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Sweden's parliament on Thursday narrowly passed a government proposal to begin replacing old nuclear reactors in the country by the start of next year.

The close vote, 174-172, officially reversed a 1980 national referendum that ordered the phasing out of nuclear power in the Nordic country by 2010. The referendum's plan was later abandoned by officials, who were struggling to find an environmentally-friendly replacement.

Sweden currently has 10 nuclear reactors, providing about 40 percent of national energy demand. Critics say expansion of nuclear energy will hurt the renewable alternative energy market, while the supporters of the government plan argue nuclear power is a viable, low-carbon option.

Swedish parliament
The opposition hopes to reverse the bill after September electionsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Platform reversal

Environment Minister Andreas Calgren said while he was skeptical about nuclear power, he saw its benefits. He added that the bill was a chance to "leave decades of political strife behind us."

"A few months ago, the climate threat dominated the environmental debate. Now it is the oil disaster in the Mexican Gulf that is sparking the world's interest in horror," Calgren told parliament. "Both are really two sides of the same coin, namely, we must leave the dependency on oil and fossil energy behind us."

The center-right government's plan was a large concession by Calgren's Center Party, which has traditionally opposed nuclear power. Indeed, two Center Party members broke party lines and voted against the measure.

Victory short-lived?

The opposition Social Democrats, Green Party and Left Party strongly opposed the plan and have threatened to reverse it if they win upcoming elections in September. Current polls suggest most Swedes favor keeping nuclear power plants, but the ruling and opposition parties are nearly tied for voter support.

Green Party spokeswoman Maria Wetterstrand criticized the Center Party for changing its traditional position and siding with its coalition partners, and doubted the nuclear plan's long-term sustainability.

Protest against nuclear energy with toxic waste bins
Environmental groups across Europe have protested the use of nuclear energyImage: dpa

"Nuclear energy has become more expensive, and ongoing projects similar to neighboring Finland have been delayed," she said during parliamentary debate. "(The plan) could mean Sweden will be making itself dependent on nuclear power for 100 more years, and there will be 100,000 years of consequences for future generations who will have to take care of the waste."

Britain, Italy and Finland have all made plans to bring new reactors on line, and Germany's government hopes to extend the lifespan of its nuclear reactors beyond the current 2022 cut-off date.

Author: Andrew Bowen (dpa/AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Nigel Tandy