Twenty years after Sweden alerted the
world to the meltdown at Chernobyl, it aims to phase out
nuclear power and end dependency on fossil fuels, putting the
country in the vanguard of green energy policy.
With soaring oil prices, rising demand, uncertain supply
and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, energy is in
focus and the European Union is calling for coordinated policy.
But the Nordic region -- united by history, a shared
concern for the environment and a harsh climate which puts
heavy demand on power -- is divided on energy, not least
When a reactor at a nuclear plant in the Ukrainian town of
Chernobyl exploded in 1986 and spewed radioactivity across
Europe, the Nordic region was on the front-line: its pristine
lakes and forests were polluted and Arctic reindeer meat and
Long before radiation on a Swedish power worker's shoes
alerted the world to history's worst nuclear accident, Sweden
had voted to get rid of atomic energy, in a 1980 referendum.
It now aims to break with fossil fuels by 2020, when it
also wants greenhouse gas emissions, blamed by many for global
warming, cut by 25 percent against 1990 levels.
"We have to transform into a non-oil economy," said Stefan
Edman, who heads the Swedish government's oil dependency panel.
"We have very high ambitions, although I don't think it is
realistic that not a drop of oil will be used in 2020."
Sweden has already cut oil use in home heating by 70
percent in the last 20 years and has kept consumption flat in
industry since 1994, despite a 70 percent increase in
The big challenge will be to do something about oil used in
the transport sector, where it accounts for 98 percent of
energy used, said Professor Christian Azar at Chalmers
University of Technology in Gothenburg, also on the oil panel.
"If we could achieve a 50 percent reduction, that would be
an enormous achievement."
While worries about oil prices and supply and climate
change are major drivers, the government also hopes that
environmental technology will be a money-spinner for Swedish
"Sweden has a chance to be an international model and a
successful actor in export markets for alternative solutions,"
said Mona Sahlin, minister for sustainable development.
"The aim is to break dependence on fossil fuels by 2020. By
then, no home will need oil for heating. By then, no motorist
will be obliged to use petrol as the sole option available. By
then, there will be better alternatives to oil."
Sweden produces around 35 percent of its energy from oil
and with nuclear power on the way out, finding alternative
power sources is a priority.
In Finland, however, nuclear power is seen as part of the
future and its fifth atomic power plant -- the first built in
Europe for more than a decade -- is due to come online in 2009.
"The main reason was increasing demand for energy," said
Anneli Nikula, spokesman for private power generation firm
Teollisuuden Voima, which owns the new power plant.
Finland does not want to rely on neighbors Russia, Sweden
and Norway for power and has many old fossil fuel plants which
have to be replaced in order to meet climate change goals.
"Cutting down carbon dioxide emissions has sparked debate
on nuclear energy in many European countries," said Nikula.
"The second coming of nuclear energy is true."
In Norway and Denmark, atomic power has never been an
In the 1970s, when other Western nations were building
nuclear plants, Norway started developing the vast oil and gas
reserves that make it the world's third biggest oil exporter
behind Saudi Arabia and Russia.
But the fact that hydropower dams still generate almost all
the nation's electricity has dampened environmental concerns.
Controversy surrounds opening up new areas of the Arctic
for oil exploration, and using natural gas to supplement
hydropower to meet growing demand. But opposition to nuclear
power is so entrenched that the center-left government did not
even mention it when outlining its policies on taking office in
"Nuclear power is not an option for Norway," Oil and Energy
Minister Odd Roger Enoksen told Reuters.
Denmark -- home to Vestas, the world's largest wind turbine
maker -- hopes use of sustainable sources such as wind and
biofuels will reach 36 percent by 2025, from 25 percent in
It also uses oil and gas from its North Sea fields and the
government's 20-year energy plan emphasises keeping that
Iceland also aims to become the world's first oil-free
nation, setting its sights on 2050, by shifting cars, buses,
trucks and ships over to non-polluting hydrogen.
By then, in theory, the only oil used on the volcanic North
Atlantic island would be in planes. About 70 percent of energy
needs are already met by geothermal or hydropower -- only the
transport sector is still hooked on oil.
For all these countries, the speed of change will depend on
the price of oil. As Azar at Chalmers University put it: "The
political momentum will drop as fast as the oil price."
Additional reporting by Laura Vinha and Terhi Kinnune in
Helsinki, Alister Doyle in Oslo, Kim McLaughlin in Copenhagen
Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited