Sweden’s Green Train Wreck


The Green movement is best understood as a series of scary bedtime stories meant to advance an anti-industrial theology. But, inevitably, the half-baked policies that result from these half-baked stories lead to conflicting goals and public policy train wrecks.


Just such a disaster is developing in Sweden today (a green model for the USA, according to lefty governors like Michigan’s Jennifer Granholm) as it struggles to meet its Kyoto goals. 


Over 20 years ago, European greens seized on the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl incidents to scare much of the continent into abandoning nuclear power. Sweden was one of the most ambitious – announcing a shutdown of all nuke plants by 2010. Rattled by the scare-du-jour of radiation clouds, China syndromes, and nuclear waste, Sweden’s citizens were assured that nukes – accounting for 50 percent of the nation’s power – could be replaced by wind and biomass.


Fast forward 20 years, and Sweden is on the brink of realizing its post-nuke dream. But it doesn’t look so dreamy. Now the scare-du-jour is global warming, and suddenly, the nuclear bogeyman looks like a perfect solution to a nation staring at the EU’s onerous emissions-reduction targets.

Especially since the promise of wind and other alternatives energy sources has turned out to be so much hot air.

A new report by Cambridge Energy Research Associates finds that “rising materials costs, engineering challenges, and installation snags threaten European goals to dramatically expand wind power.” The report assesses as unlikely the European Union’s goal of getting 20 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020 without massive new government subsidies.

An article in the New Zealand Herald is blunt: “How to meet the lofty target is a puzzle. Clean renewables are still in their infancy yet will be required to deliver gigawatts of power when many fossil-fuel and nuclear power stations are at the end of their operational life.”


In Sweden, of course, all nukes are at the end of their life thanks to the government’s nearly 30-year ban. In the face of this blunder, Sweden’s government has postponed its 2010 deadline as it scrambles to find a solution to its aging utility infrastructure and emissions ceiling.


Public opinion is also swinging back towards nukes as Swedes realize freezing in the dark is not an option. As Mechanical Engineering Magazine notes, for all of Scandinavia’s green preening, “per capita consumption of electricity in Sweden is 16,500 kilowatt-hours per year, among the highest in the world” — thanks to “its electricity-intensive industries, such as pulp and paper processing, mining, steel forging, and chemical formulation.”


Green groups like Friends of the Earth Europe are howling, but even the very green International Energy Agency is gently suggesting a reality check: “Against this background, it is hard to see how phasing out nuclear energy could serve Sweden’s broader energy policy goals.”


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