This is big. The Swedish government, it was reported today, is ending the countryâ''s multi-decade ban on new nuclear construction and is dropping its plan to phase out all operating reactors. Though it relies on atomic energy for half its electricity, the Swedes have been committed since the 1980s to shutting down all their nuclear power plants, though they have not in fact made much progress doing so. Now the center-right governmentâ''s stated intention is to build new reactors to gradually replace the 10 currently operating. The decision is bound to have wide impact on opinion, especially in Germany, which also has been committed in principle since the 1980s to phasing out nuclear energy.
Sweden is one of those little countries, like South Korea and Holland, that wields an influence in technology--not to mention culture and world politics--that is all out of proportion with its size. It now joins other Europeans countries--notably the United Kingdom, France, and Italy--that have decided in the last year to expand reliance on nuclear energy. Its national utility Vattenfall, a world leader in developing and demonstrating clean energy technology, is expressing interest in entering the British nuclear market as a competitor to Franceâ''s national utility EDF. Vattenfall owns and operates nuclear reactors in Germany, as well as a large fleet of coal-fired plants, and often is in the news there.
Germanyâ''s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who appears to be on a political upswing, has long sought â''an exit from the nuclear exit.â'' Commenting on Swedenâ''s â''buried exit,â'' Germanyâ''s leading business newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, said the decision has aroused agitation among German environmentalists.