When I studied energy a few years back, we discussed the total energy produced in Sweden (energy, not electricity). The biggest pie chunk was the one that raised most interest among us would-be energy engineers. And we learned that this, fully one-third of all the energy produced (or more exactly, converted) in the country is simply dumped into the sea as hot water.
This is the water used to extract the extra heat from nuclear power stations (cooling water). It is not at all radioactive and it could be very easily be channelled into Sweden’s extensive district-heating grid. But no – this water is not even used to provide showers in the nuclear facility. Instead it is poured into the sea, possibly harming sea life and creating lovely clouds of expensive steam.
This is the result of a political decision back in the 1980s. With the accident at Three Mile island in 1979, the Swedes got all squirmy and put the future of nuclear power to a referendum. This was an interesting referendum as there were 3 options and all of them were “NO”, but slightly different kinds of NO. Anyway, the NO vote won and a moratorium was declared on developing nuclear power.
It sounds to me like a typical Swedish solution to a problem – present only one possible option to the people, and then ignore completely what they actually say. But this decision also meant that no products of nuclear power (such as free hot water) could be used for anything. And so this led to the Swedes, who are usually very smug about their environmental record, dumping 33% of the energy that they produce directly into the ocean.
But now everybody knows that this nuclear phase-out will not happen, at least not soon. And say what you will about nuclear power, but it seems to me that when you expose a population to the full risks of fission reactors, then it might be a good idea to also provide them with any advantages you can scrape together. But no – the Swedes are absorbing the full impact of having nuclear power but are not reaping all of the benefits, because of a rather large lack of balls on the part of their politicians.
There is essentially no danger from this water – the heat is transferred through several cycles and the fluids do not touch. This hot water could be used for domestic heating and cooling, the warming of greenhouses, fish farming, and finally for keeping roads free of ice and snow in the winter. Even generation of more electricity is possible using a low-temperature turbine cycle, such as an organic Rankine cycle.
And now the Finns are getting in ahead of the edgy Swedes in this area. They plan to build a nuclear reactor in Simo, 50 km from Sweden, and pipe the hot water across the border to the Swedish town of Haparanda, where it will be sold for a tidy profit.
The Swedes generate fully half of their electricity from nuclear power, and pretending that it can be replaced quickly is simply avoiding the problem. Or would the anti-nuclear hippies from the 70s prefer if Sweden just bought vastly more dirty coal-produced electricity from Poland to run their electric cars, juice-makers and massage chairs?