Radioactive Waste: Politics and Technology

By Frans Berkhout | Go to book overview

Chapter four

Sweden

4.1 Introduction

Deciding how to organize the back-end of the nuclear-fuel cycle has nowhere caused such profound political conflict as in Sweden. For nearly 5 years, beginning in 1975, Swedish politics was overshadowed by the problem of nuclear safety, and waste management and disposal. By late 1978 two national governments had fallen over the issue. The culmination of this political strife was a national referendum on the nuclear question in which the people of Sweden voted for a 30-year moratorium on nuclear development, leading to a complete phase-out by 2010.

The real starting point for Swedish back-end policy was a law making new fuelling permits for reactors conditional on an acceptable solution being demonstrated for radioactive waste disposal. The Swedish policy process is therefore distinctive because it begins with a search for a solution to the disposal problem, and not from general strategic considerations as in the Federal Republic and in the UK.

But the centrality of the problem of disposal cannot be explained merely by a special Swedish angst about radiation hazards, although this has played a part. Instead we will show that a particular conjunction of political trends was responsible for raising the issue to national prominence, and from then on the particular Swedish style of resolving political conflicts was a determining feature.

Positions on nuclear power became electorally decisive in Sweden during the mid-1970s. Many see the historic overturning of Social Democratic Party (SAP) rule in the 1976 general election as being in large measure due to the successful strategy of one non-socialist leader who distinguished his political appeal by campaigning on a strongly anti-nuclear platform. When SAP was defeated for the first time since the 1930s, a pledge to solve the problem of radwaste disposal came to represent the glue which held together a heterogeneous non-socialist coalition government.

A paradox lies at the heart of the Swedish story. This is the co-existence of a rigorous technical assessment of the options for radwaste

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