A bill that has recently been tabled by the Government means that the legislator is shortly expected to start paving the way for new nuclear power in Sweden and to facilitate investments in modern nuclear reactors and increased electricity generation. At the same time, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority is emphasising the need to modernise the legislation in order to produce clarity and predictability for the nuclear power industry. Further amendments in laws and rules will be necessary steps in the work to ensure a future with increased nuclear generation and diversified use of nuclear energy.
NEW NUCLEAR POWER BILL
On 3 October this year, the government submitted the mandate period's first bill to Parliament concerning expansion of nuclear power in Sweden: New nuclear power in Sweden – a first step (in Swedish). The bill is the first in a long time with the aim of enabling and facilitating new investments in nuclear power in Sweden. In the bill, the government is principally proposing that chapter 17, section 6 a of the Swedish Environmental Code be annulled with effect from 1 January 2024.
Chapter 17, section 6 a of the Swedish Environmental Code entered into force in 2011, and since then has in part entailed a limit on the number of reactors in simultaneous operation in Sweden to a maximum of ten, and in part a prohibition on construction of new nuclear reactors in sites other than where nuclear power is already located (Oskarshamn, Ringhals and Forsmark). Abolishing these restrictions and making it possible for the government to allow more than ten reactors in simultaneous operation and in locations other than the current ones, removes the most obvious obstacle to facilitating new reactors in Sweden. Other legislatory conditions for installations for nuclear operation and admissibility assessments of nuclear reactors are, however, not affected by the government's proposal.
Precisely as the bill's name indicates, this is only one of several necessary steps to facilitate new nuclear power in Sweden – including for so-called small modular reactors (SMRs). It is thus clear that more measures are needed on the part of the legislator to use expanded nuclear power to be able, in part, to increase the amount of plannable electricity generation in the electricity system and thus contribute to the electrification of, for example, the industrial and transport sectors, in part to pave the way for more ways in which to use nuclear power besides electricity generation (primarily heat and hydrogen production).
THE SWEDISH RADIATION SAFETY AUTHORITY'S INVESTIGATION
In February and August this year, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) presented its investigation (in Swedish) on behalf of the Government into the conditions for utilisation of existing and future nuclear power and what development of the regulations is needed.
SSM notes that Swedish legislation for existing nuclear reactors permits operation as long as the plants are safe. In addition, SSM considers that the regulations currently in place are primarily function-oriented and technology-neutral and therefore largely also function for new reactor technology, even though certain adjustments and supplementations may be needed. After all, the last time an assessment for a permit for a new nuclear reactor was initiated in Sweden was in the early 1970s.
With the aim of contributing clarity and predictability and creating a new, modern basis for both continued operation and development of existing nuclear operations as well as for permit assessment and supervision of potential new nuclear reactors, SSM's proposals include building on the proposal for a new Nuclear Activities Act from 2019 (SOU 2019:16), which was intended to replace the currently applicable Nuclear Activities Act (1984:3). Some of SSM's proposals, which, besides the introduction of a new Nuclear Activities Act, require, for example, amendments to the Swedish Environmental Code and the Radiation Protection Act (2018:396), are to:
- Provide equivalent conditions for different types of energy regarding their potential location and equivalent conditions concerning the municipal veto. For example, an adjustment of chapter 4, section 4 of the Swedish Environmental Code is proposed which also entails a geographic limit in that new nuclear plants may not be constructed within most of the coastal area in southern Sweden apart from in places where such plants or other major industrial plants are currently located.
- Clarify and simplify permit assessment, including through removing the double application of the Swedish Environmental Code in permit assessment according to both the Swedish Environmental Code and the Nuclear Activities Act.
- Provide increased flexibility for different types and sizes of reactors (for example, with respect to SMRs) and new actors and forms of operation. SSM consequently proposes that a permit holder should no longer need to have its own organisation with all the resources that are needed to meet the requirements that the legislation places on the operation, rather that it should be sufficient that the permit holder ensures that there is an adequate organisation to meet the requirements.
- Give SSM the possibility to implement evaluations that precede the national permit assessment in a voluntary and flexible process that encompasses all or parts of a proposed design of new reactor technology.
- Introduce a right for SSM to prescribe which requirements are set for a suitable location for a nuclear reactor and which documentation is required to show that a site is suitable based on both safety and radiation protection aspects.
FURTHER WORK IS REQUIRED
For it to be possible for new nuclear power to be implemented to any significant extent – in particular when it comes to reactors in new sites and by new reactor owners – continued investigations are consequently needed in order to further develop the laws, statutes and regulations that affect the conditions for new nuclear power. For example, SSM identifies the Act on Liability and Compensation in the event of Radiological Accidents (2010:950), the Accident Protection Act (2003:778) and the rules for financing of processing and final repository of nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel as those where further investigation is needed.
In its bill, the Government announces that SSM's reports will be prepared and are planned to be taken into account in continued investigations and government assignments, where certain questions raised by other referral bodies will also be dealt with. The bill also emphasises that it predicts that the preparations of new applications concerning nuclear operations will take time and that there will therefore be time in the future to investigate and implement the legislative amendments that might be needed, at the same time as the current proposal provides planning conditions for companies that want to invest in nuclear operations.
Lindahl's energy team has long and wide-ranging experience of nuclear-related advice, including in relation to operation and modernisation of existing reactors. We closely monitor developments in the industry and in the legislative area in order to continue providing our clients with qualified advice within different parts of nuclear law.