Sweden looks set to reverse a decades-old ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants as part of a new energy and climate policy.

The country’s alliance government has presented a policy document that proposes allowing the construction of new nuclear reactors in order to improve energy security and combat climate change. It has also proposed a range of other policies to improve energy efficiency and increase the level of renewable energy use.

Approval of the plan could lead to the construction of new nuclear power plants on the sites of the country’s existing nuclear facilities. It would also set a number of key targets for renewable energy, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions.

The policy document is an indication that European legislation on energy and climate change will drive the use of not just renewable energy but also nuclear power.

Sweden voted in a 1980 referendum to phase out the use of nuclear power and has already closed two reactors at the Barseback plant. Its remaining ten reactors – located at three sites – supply roughly half of the country’s electricity needs.

The government says that given climate considerations, nuclear power must remain a part of Sweden’s energy mix “for the foreseeable future”. To this end, it says it will annul the Nuclear Phase-Out Act and lift the prohibition against new construction in the Nuclear Activities Act.

The policy has been welcomed by Vattenfall, which says that Sweden needs a long-term, widely-supported energy policy that incorporates responsibility for climate change issues.

Lars Josefsson, Vattenfall’s CEO, said: “It is good that the energy policy is becoming more focused on achieving clear targets and more neutral about the technology required to do so. Vattenfall will contribute to realizing the ambitious targets for climate policy and renewable energy production, which are in line with Vattenfall’s strategy.”

The company also says that it is interested in constructing new nuclear plants in Sweden.

The government hopes that by supporting the construction of nuclear capacity and increasing the level of renewable energy generation, Sweden will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 40 per cent over 1990 levels by 2020. It also wants renewable energy to account for half of electricity production by 2020 and to see a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency.

“Swedish electricity production today is essentially based on only two sources – hydropower and nuclear power,” reads the published document. “To reduce vulnerability and increase security of supply, a third source of electricity that reduces dependence on nuclear power and hydropower should be developed. To achieve this, cogeneration, wind power and other renewable power production must together account for a significant proportion of electricity production.”

The government plans to phase out the use of fossil fuels for heating by 2020, and to reduce the dependence of the transport sector on fossil fuels. “By 2050, Sweden will have a sustainable and resource-efficient energy supply and no net emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” says the policy.

In the renewable energy sector, the government has proposed extending the certification system in order to implement a gradual and continued increase the level of production. It has set a target of 30 TWh of production from wind power by 2020, two-thirds of which will be on land and the remainder from offshore facilities.