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Swedish Nationalists Mull New Nuclear Firm to Rival Vattenfall

The Swedish government’s key coalition partner is ratcheting up pressure on Vattenfall AB to expand nuclear power production and says a separate company could be formed for that purpose if the state-run utility doesn’t move fast enough.

The strategy of the nationalist Sweden Democrats, whose support is crucial to the country’s three-party government, stems from their perception that Vattenfall is dragging its heels over expanding the fleet of reactors. The utility has said it may take a decade or more to get new units online.

“Vattenfall has historically been reluctant to build nuclear power,” Sweden Democrats Leader Jimmie Akesson said in an interview in Stockholm. “Our party has always been of the opinion that the state must step in and direct its company so that nuclear power is built.”

One way to accelerate the process, Akesson said, would be to set up a separate company to oversee the expansion, a topic that sailed to the top of the government’s agenda last year as the energy crisis raged and bills surged.

While prices have dropped since, Sweden needs all the new capacity it can get as demand is poised to jump over the next few decades with the electrification of everything from transportation to heavy industry.

Vattenfall operates five of Sweden’s six reactors, which supply about a third of the country’s power. The utility is studying the use of small modular reactors, which are quicker to build than conventional units, and starting the process to purchase land adjacent to the Ringhals plant on the west coast.

Vattenfall said in an emailed response to questions that all fossil-free sources will be needed to meet demand, and the firm has advanced plans for new reactors.

“Vattenfall has a lot of advantages in terms of nuclear tech that a new startup would not have,” said Jakob Magnussen, global head of credit research at Danske Bank A/S in Copenhagen. The proposal might still “serve as a form of pressure on Vattenfall to move forward,” he said.

Representatives of the government ministry in charge of energy and enterprise didn’t respond to requests for comment on the proposal.

Earlier this year, the government and the Sweden Democrats reshuffled Vattenfall’s board to steer it in a more nuclear-friendly direction. Among those replaced was Tomas Kaberger, who favored wind and solar as more economical options for electricity generation than nuclear power.

More board changes could be in the cards unless Vattenfall acts with the appropriate urgency, Akesson said.

“We have received a popular mandate to build nuclear power in Sweden, and that is what we have to adhere to,” he said.

Read More: Nuclear Power Primed for Swedish Comeback But Hurdles Remain

Reactors are notoriously expensive to build and come with huge risks of delays because of their complicated designs. In Finland, Europe’s biggest reactor started commercial operation this year — 14 years later than planned. In the UK, Electricite de France SA’s project is billions of pounds over budget.

The government has pledged credit guarantees of 400 billion Swedish kronor ($36 billion) for nuclear projects, and Akesson didn’t express concern over potential burdens.

“Others can focus on the financial aspects,” he said. “I will do what is necessary to make it happen.”

While he stopped short of putting forward a timeline to rival Vattenfall’s plans, he emphasized the importance of not being at the bottom of manufacturers’ waiting lists as other nations pursue new reactors, as well.

“We have a great need for it, and we have to make sure we can manage the long-term energy supply,” he said.

Source: BNN Blooberg