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Millennium bug threatens Sweden's nuclear plants

Tuesday August 18 1:33 PM EDT 

Millennium bug threatens Sweden's nuclear plants

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Swedes may get an unwelcome foretaste 
of their plan to phase out nuclear power by 2010 unless
computer experts crush a millennium bug.

Sweden's nuclear watchdog is tightening its grip on the power 
industry's 2000 preparations after uncovering a fault at an atomic
unit which could have left many Swedes in the cold and the dark.

Nuclear power workers are in for a dull and sober New Year 2000 
as plants plan full staffing in case of problems. And some
plants are worried the millennium bug might even strike at the end 
of this year.

Maintenance personnel at the three-reactor Forsmark station 
sounded the alarm in July when they found that the plant's data
system was unable to recognize the first two digits of the number 
2000, resulting in an automatic shutdown.

``If possible millennium problems are not taken care of well in 
advance, people could face a cool and dark New Year's Eve,''
spokesman Anders Bjoerle at Sweden's nuclear power 
inspectorate (SKI) told Reuters.

SKI has said it might order a temporary shutdown on the eve of the 
millennium and go over to hydro-power as a back-up if it
cannot guarantee there will be no computer problems.

Bjoerle said SKI's first step was to inspect Sweden's 12 nuclear 
units, which produce a combined 66.9 terrawatt hours
(TWh), or around 50 percent of the country's total output.

Testing has shown that the so-called millennium bug -- expected to 
hit computer systems worldwide at a tick past midnight on
December 31, 1999 -- could prove fatal to nuclear power production.

Programmers in the 1960s and 1970s saved time and money by 
skipping the first two numbers of a four-digit year. That means
computers will read 2000 as 1900, threatening glitches in power 
supply and raising the urgent need for back-up sources.


``Minus 30 degrees without electricity -- that could be a cool 
Swedish New Year's Eve,'' said Forsmark spokesman Anders

Swedes voted to phase out nuclear power by 2010 in a 1980 
referendum. The government plans to spend nine billion crowns
($1.1 billion) on closing down the nation's 12 reactors.

Sweden reckons its plants are among the safest in the world, with 
stiffer maintenance demands than in many countries. Sweden
has never had a major accident at any plant.

Bjoern Lindquist, manager for the millennium project at Vattenfall 
AB, Sweden's national power producer, said the company
was focusing on testing to find ways to avoid shutdowns.

``We do not fear any problems after all the precautions we have 
taken. But if a plant shuts down, we will have alternative
plants ready and we will take the electricity we need from other 
places,'' Lindquist told Reuters.

He said stand-by measures were not yet in place but that plants 
would be fully staffed on the night.

``We have notified personnel not to plan any great parties on that 
particular New Year's Eve, but to leave the 2000 celebration
for later,'' Lindquist said.

Vattenfall, the owner and operator of the Forsmark station, has 
been working on the 2000 bug since 1996.

``We have invested hundreds of millions of crowns in this program,'' 
Stig Goethe, manager for Vattenfall's environment and
development unit, told Reuters.

But he said the costs involved represented just a fraction of the 
potential losses the company could face if its data system
breaks down when 2000 begins.

With a total capacity of 6,640 megawatt (MW), Vattenfall's two 
plants, Ringhals and Forsmark, can produce 159,360
megawatt hours (MWh) in 24 hours at maximum power.


Sweden's other major nuclear power owner, Sydkraft AB, says it 
stepped up its millennium bug efforts after discovering
computer problems could arise earlier than expected.

The three-unit Oskarshamn plant, operated by Sydkraft unit OKG 
AB, uncovered an error which would have disturbed
regulation of the reactor's feed water, likely to result in an 
automatic shutdown when the computer systems switched to 1999.

``We turned the clock forward in our computer system and found 
the reactor broke down as soon as it was confronted with
the figure 1999,'' plant spokesman Anders Oesterberg said.

Programmers had used 999, or ``zero'' in computer language, to 
store unidentified information which interfered with the plant's

Oesterberg said Oskarshamn has solved -- or postponed -- the 
problem by turning back clocks to make its data system
believe that 1999 was 1991. In 2000, computers will be 
programmed for 1992, delaying bug problems by eight years.

``That will leave us plenty of time to replace the old computer 
systems,'' he said.

Sydkraft's three-unit Oskarshamn plant and two-reactor Barseback 
station have the capacity to produce 518,280 MWh in a
24-hour period.

SKI's Bjoerle said there was no threat to safety from the millennium 
bug but merely the problem of keeping Swedes warm.

``There is no connection between the millennium and the safety of 
the nuclear reactor. The problem is power supply,'' he said.

Sandy Perle
Technical Director
ICN Dosimetry Division
ICN Plaza
3300 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Office: (800) 548-5100 x2306 
Fax:    (714) 668-3149

ICN Dosimetry Website:

Personal Website:

"The object of opening the mind, as of opening 
the mouth, is to close it again on something solid"
              - G. K. Chesterton -

The opinions expressed are solely, absolutely, positively, definitely those of the author, and NOT my employer
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