As Toxic as Nuclear Waste

    It used to be the case that once a leader announced that he (or, occasionally, she) would retire, the heat would immediately turn off. The eulogies would start streaming in, blended with the tiniest touch of criticism just to make them more plausible. The soon-to-be-former top politician or business mogul would spend the last few weeks at the office basking in the glory of past achievements and humbly accepting the gratitude and farewell presents of friends and foes, temporarily united around his departure.

    The times they are a-changin’, though. With less than a month left to steer his party and the country, it seems like Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven is still expected to deliver. Earlier this week, in preparation for the EU summit in Brussels, which is to be his last appearance among his European peers, consultations were held between the PM and the Riksdag’s EU Committee.  A majority of the committee demanded that Löfven address the issue of nuclear power at the upcoming meeting. They argued that it would be logical to bring up the question, given that the most critical issue at the two-day in-person summit is expected to be the shockingly high energy prices.

    Well, this politician might be about to exit, but he is definitely not about to let himself be bullied into doing things he doesn’t want to do. “No, I see no point as a Swedish Prime Minister to raise an issue that no one has put on the agenda. It does not strengthen Sweden’s voice; that is my message,” says Löfven (in Swedish to a radio reporter)[1].

    Tempted as I am to let it slide and sympathise with the fella wishing to enjoy his last few precious days in the mid-European limelight in an amicable, non-controversial manner, I can’t help thinking about missed opportunities. When exactly is the right time to raise an uncomfortable question, really? But perhaps what we should be asking is not why the Swedish PM is not willing to talk about nuclear power with his peers, but why nobody else is either. He is right, after all, to point out that the topic is missing from the agenda altogether.

    To be fair, there are those who dare to raise the question, at least in the context of the EU Green Taxonomy. This month alone, ten countries, including France, Finland, Poland, and Hungary, have said that it is “absolutely necessary that nuclear power was included in the taxonomy framework”. According to the ministers who signed the op-ed, the ongoing surge in electricity prices provides another argument for doing so. “Firstly, because it prevents European consumers to be exposed to the volatility of prices, as we currently face with gas prices. Secondly, because it contributes decisively to the independence of our energy and electricity supplies.” It would certainly seem that the debate is intensifying between nations that insist nuclear power is vital to the energy transition and their own energy security and those that believe the inherent dangers outweigh the benefits.

    No wonder then that Brussels is reportedly to delay the long-awaited proposals on classifying nuclear power and natural gas under the EU’s landmark labelling system for green finance. Initially due this autumn, the proposal may be pushed back into the next year, according to the Financial Times, quoting EU financial services commissioner Mairead McGuinness.

    And no wonder the Swedish PM finds the nuclear question way too toxic to bring up at his last rendezvous in Brussels. The times they certainly are a-changin’. A retiring leader nowadays seems less preoccupied about his legacy than about making a quiet exit.

    Photo by Kilian Karger on Unsplash

    [1] The PM changed his mind the day after, by the way. “Our position is that nuclear power is important, it is an important part of Sweden’s energy mix and will be so for a long time. It will play a major role throughout the energy transition, and I will address that,” he said at a press conference in Brussels.

    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia has accumulated experience in asset management for more than 20 years in Stockholm and Beijing, in portfolio management, asset allocation, fund selection and risk management. In December 2020, she completed a program in Sustainability Studies at the University of Linköping. Julia speaks Mandarin, Bulgarian, Hindi, Russian, Swedish, Urdu and English. She holds a Master in Indology from Sofia University and has completed studies in Economics at both Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics.

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