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Nuclear Power Debate Still Lively 10 Years After It Finished

March 24, 1990

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ When Swedes voted in a referendum 10 years ago to phase out nuclear energy, they thought they put the question to rest.

They were wrong.

Many in this country, which depends on nuclear power for half its electricity, are having second thoughts about the decision to stop building new reactors and to close the 12 existing atomic power stations by the year 2010.

A recent poll said 54 percent of 2,500 Swedes queried wanted to keep nuclear power after 2010, compared with 30 percent four years ago.

Friday was the 10th anniversary of the passage of the referendum. It brought new calls to rethink the idea of closing the first reactor in 1995 and a second in 1996.

In a possible sign they want to back out of the timetable, Environment Minister Birgitta Dahl and Industry Minister Rune Molin wrote in a joint article that their No. 1 priority was to protect full employment.

″The day the dismantling leads to loss of jobs, factories closing and rationing electricity, the nuclear power lobby will win its strongest arguments,″ they wrote in Friday’s Dagens Nyheter daily.

The two, who have been at loggerheads in the past over energy policy, promised to come up with a long-term strategy later this year.

Advocates of nuclear power cite tightened safety regulations. ″The safety and security have been extraordinarily good,″ said Bo Wergens, a leader in Sweden’s profitable pulp and paper industry. It relies heavily on nuclear power, which is relatively cheap.

Critics note that in Sweden’s frigid climate, most homes are overheated and homeowners barely notice the bill. By some estimates, closing the stations would double the consumer cost of electricity.

The debate on nuclear energy dominated politics here for nearly a decade. It was partly responsible for the ouster of the Social Democrats in 1976 after 44 unbroken years in power.

The issue is still so contentious that the three non-socialist opposition parties failed to unite in a coalition last month to replace the Social Democrats, who quit over economic policy. The Social Democrats returned to office by default.

The 1980 referendum was called a few months after the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in the United States. Reinforcement came in 1986, when the explosion at the Chernobyl plant in the Soviet Union sent a cloud of contamination over central Sweden.

But despite lessened fears today, the anti-nuclear lobby is still strong. Dozens of black-clad women gathered outside Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson’s office Friday, carrying pictures of children over the slogan: ″Innocents in a radioactive world.″

″We think nuclear power is dangerous, that Sweden and all other countries should abstain from it as soon as possible,″ said Christer Skaneberg, a legislator for the Environment Party.

″The right signal would be for the government to close one reactor this year,″ said Lennart Daleus, arguing that Sweden has a surplus of energy. Daleus led the anti-nuclear campaign in the referendum.

The government has been debating how to replace nuclear power.

The other half of Sweden’s power is hydroelectric, but the environmentally conscious Swedes also passed legislation forbidding the exploitation of the remaining pristine rivers of northern Sweden.

Concerns of global warming, which scientists believe is caused by high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, prompted other regulations to reduce emissions. Oil-fueled stations, which in the 1970s supplied 40 percent of the electricity, today are used as peak-hour supplements.