On 23 June, E.ON Sweden announced plans to shut down two of the three reactors at Oskarshamn between now and 2020. The reactors' unprofitabiility is cited as the principal reason for the decision, but the move is also in keeping with E.ON's overall turn toward sustainable energy sources.
O1 and O2 (which started up in 1974 and 1972, respectively) are Sweden's oldest reactors, and are also among the four smallest. As reported earlier this year, Vattenfall announced plans to close its oldest reactors, R1 and R2 at Ringhals, in about the same time frame.1
Interviewed after E.ON's announcement, a senior consultant to Vattenfall summed up the situation: "The way the energy market works today, all sources are pooled. The cheapest source gets to produce, and we [R1 and R2] weren't it."
E.ON's motives are the same. Like Vattenfall, it sees no prospect of the price of electricity rising between now and 2020. The two companies are simply cutting their operating losses. In this present case, however, E.ON, which owns 54.5% of the operator, OKG, has taken the decision against the will of minority owner, Fortum (45.5%).
The closure of four reactors within the next five years will bring the Sweden's nuclear park down to half, from twelve to six. Nuclear production capacity will, however, not be reduced by the same proportion. The remaining reactor in Oskarshamn (1985), for example, produces 30% more electricity than O1 and O2 combined. Yet, when Vattenfall announced the closure of R1 and R2, some analysts pointed to six reactors as a 'pain threshold', a point beyond which occasional electricity shortages in the south of Sweden could not be ruled out.
Sweden has got by without O1 and/or O2 for some time. Both have long suffered the frailty of old age. O1 has been on and offline intermittently for years. O2 was taken offline in 2006 for 'modernization' – a project that to date has cost approximately 8 billion SEK (€854m; US$928m) The reactor is scheduled to resume production at the end of 2015, but whether it actually will be brought online remains an open question. As noted above, the owners are not in agreement.
Why pour 8 billion SEK into O2? In short: to convert the reactor to use mixed uranium−plutonium (MOX) fuel. It's a decades-long saga:
- In 1969, OKG contracted with Sellafield in England to reprocess waste from O1 and O2, soon to come online. Between 1969 and 1984 OKG shipped over 140 tons of waste and paid a total of 650 million SEK to have it reprocessed.
- In 1984, Sweden changed its policy, forbidding export of waste and mandating direct intermediate storage, pending the creation of a geological repository for nuclear fuel waste in Sweden.
- What to do with the waste already at Sellafield? In 2006, OKG was granted permission to use MOX fuel in O2 and O3. The decision was controversial, but authorities deemed import of MOX, made out of OKG's waste, to be more in keeping with the new policy.
- But Sellafield's backlog was long, and years passed. The Sellafield MOX Plant was also wracked with technical problems. In 2011, a decision was taken to shut it down, and in March 2014 Swedish authorities authorized OKG to sell the waste to the British Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, who pledged that it would not be used in nuclear weaponry. With the sale, the MOX scheme would appear to have ended.
Electricity prices this year are the lowest since 2000. Favorable winter conditions have filled the northern dams. But nuclear's disadvantage on the market is not just of the moment. Analysts discussing the recent phase-out decisions point to longer-term trends. The 'Energiewende' in Germany, and large-scale private investments in energy efficiency measures and renewables (Södra Cell2, a paper pulp factory a stone's throw from Oskarshamn, and IKEA, for example3), are depressing the market and will continue to do so. In addition, nuclear operators face costly investments to meet new safety requirements, such as external core-cooling systems – a lesson from Fukushima. On the margins, a rise in the Swedish reactor capacity tax has also been proposed.
Choosing to look to the bright side, Jonas Abrahamsson, CEO for E.ON Sweden, sums up the situation: "Under current market and political conditions, the trend is clear. We will see fewer, but larger reactors. O3, one of the largest reactors in Sweden today, producing more electricity than O1 and O2 combined, will play a strategic role in stabilizing the Swedish energy supply system for many years to come."
1. Charly Hultén, 7 May 2015, 'Sweden: Vattenfall announces early retirement of two reactors', Nuclear Monitor #803, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/803/nuclear-monitor-803
Fortum: "Fortum would prefer continued operations at Oskarshamn nuclear power units 1 and 2" (Press release, 23 June 2015), www.fortum.com/en/mediaroom/Pages/fortum-would-prefer-continued-operatio...
— Mats Knutson/Sveriges Television: "Två kärnkraftsreaktorer kan stängas", 4 juni 2015, www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/tva-karnkraftsreaktorer-stangs
— E.ON: "E.on föreslår ny inriktning för OKG" (Press release, 23 June 2015), www.eon.se/press#/pressreleases/e-on-foereslaar-ny-inriktning-foer-okg-o...
— Monica Kleja: "Eon vill stänga reaktor O2 i förtid", Ny Teknik, 23 juni 2015, www.nyteknik.se/nyheter/energi_miljo/karnkraft/article3917000.ece
— Monica Kleja: "'Tungt beslut för Eon'" Ny Teknik, 23 juni 2015, www.nyteknik.se/nyheter/energi_miljo/karnkraft/article3917025.ece
— Sveriges Television: "Eon vill stänga Oskarshamn 2", 23 juni 2015, www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/eon-vill-stanga-oskarshamn-2
A historic day for Swedish wind power
Wind power in Sweden passed a milestone on 31 May 2015. For the first time ever, Swedish windmills produced more wattage and energy (3,412 MW) than the country's nuclear reactors (3,386 MW). The period was only a little over 90 minutes, but is historic.
Professor Thomas Kåberger, former Director of the Swedish Energy Agency and perhaps Sweden's foremost expert on energy, said:
"When nuclear power operates at maximum capacity it can produce 10 GW, whereas maximum production for wind power is roughly half that much. But, for various reasons both nuclear reactors and wind power often operate at less than maximum capacity. Wind power output is predictable because it depends on how windy it is. Nuclear power is less sensitive to the weather, but it is susceptible to technical problems that result in major, sometimes totally unexpected, outages. These past five years, Sweden oldest reactors have not been producing well, and at the moment, for a variety reasons, seven of the ten reactors are down. ..."
Wind power is often criticized for not producing the same amount of energy from day to day. But, as Svensk Vindernergi (Swedish Wind Energy trade association) points out, wind power outages are small relative to what happens when a nuclear reactor is taken off line:
"If seven out of ten reactors can be off line, and it doesn't result in any shortages, it shows we have a robust electricity supply system. It also shows that the system can handle the considerably smaller variations associated with wind power production."
One might say the 'record' is a fluke. On May 31, after all, only three nuclear reactors were on line. But, statistics show that on a regional basis, wind power production is often second only to hydro (see nordpoolspot.com). Svensk Vindernergi is confident that this will occur even more frequently as wind power continues to attract investments. In Sweden today, wind power has a potential for expansion on a large scale at the lowest cost per watt.
− "Milstolpe: Vindkraften spöade kärnkraften" Miljöaktuellt, 1 juni 2015, http://miljoaktuellt.idg.se/2.1845/1.629411/historisk-ogonblick-nar-el-f... an-karnkraft
− Svensk Vindenergi: "Vindkraft har stor betydelse" (press release), 2 juni 2015, www.vindkraftsbranschen.se/blog/pressmeddelanden/vindkraft-har-stor-bety...