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Swedish Politico / Nuclear Energy Policy: Revisited

Last month, President Obama announced a strong shift in Federal energy policy. The Department of Energy will soon offer over $8 billion in loan guarantees for two new nuclear reactors to be built near Augusta, Georgia as part of the Administration's commitment to providing clean energy and creating new jobs.

Many western countries already rely heaving upon nuclear power to meet national energy consumption needs, including Japan, China, and several of the European Union Member States. The French Republic, as a good example, derives between 70 and 90 percent of its energy production from the country’s fifty-nine nuclear power plants and leads the world in nuclear-based energy exports. In France, the industry employs thousands of engineers, researchers, and service staff, and supports local communities that would otherwise be without lucrative and sustainable sources of revenue.

Sweden, much like the United States has, since the 1970s, been very skeptical of large scale expansion of the use of nuclear energy, and accordingly permanently shut down Barsebäck 1 and Barsebäck 2 in 1999 and 2005, respectively. Sweden's remaining ten nuclear reactors supply circa 44.3 % of the country's total production of electrcity.

This recent move by the Obama administration is a strong push to update Federal energy policy, which has not supported nuclear energy expansion in over thirty years. Yet President Obama’s stance has drawn criticism from both the Left and the Right. Some of the more environmentally focused groups within the Democratic Party have cautioned the danger that power plants could pose to wildlife, not to mention the health of the general population should an incident occur as it did in 1979 when a partial core meltdown at the Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station caused increased exposure to radiation emissions in Dauphin, Pennsylvania. Some on the Right, have also voiced concern that nuclear power plants would become targets for terrorists, seeking to carry out high-profile terrorist plots.

Another issue that arises from expanded nuclear power production in the United States is what to do with the waste. Encouragingly, the Kentucky Senate recently approved a bill that would allow nuclear-waste to be stored in the state. Though the bill still needs to pass the state House of Representatives, this initiative signals a cooperative and potentially job and revenue friendly approach to modern nuclear energy policy.

Kentucky could also serve as an example for European Member states that, much like the Blue Grass State, has seen a decline in energy revenues, and must seek alternative methods to fund the State budget. It is unlikely, however, that any of the Scandinavian countries would come to serve as the nuclear dumping ground of the rest of Europe.

Currently, there are 10 fully operational nuclear power plants in Sweden. It is likely that the growing economic pressure of the rising price of electrice power and the prospect of revenue derived from exporting nuclear energy will encourage Sweden to rethinnk it's current energy policy. Encouragingly, there are plans to upgrade by 2012 almost all of the country's nuclear reactors. It will be interesting to see how Sweden, vis-a-vis it's Nordic neighbours, will benefit from a more progressive, safe, nuclear energy policy.


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