Opinion column of Johan Swahn, Director of The Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review, MKG and member of the Management Board of NTW :
“Nuclear Transparency in Sweden
There is a saying – or perhaps one should consider it a joke –about how Swedes used to behave at meetings in Brussels when we had just joined the EU. Apparently there would always come a time when the Swede in the group would stand up and says ”This is how we do it in Sweden…”. Implying that this is the best and only way to do it – and that everyone should follow.
I think, or hope, that Swedes in Brussels nowadays have learned to be a bit more humble. And are perceived as being so. There are of course good practices in Sweden that the rest of Europe could learn from. But all countries have their own good ways of doing things. Sweden is certainly learning from Europe. I am sure my home city of Göteborg – so far from the centre of Europe – would not feel as continental as it now does, if Sweden had not joined the EU.
That being said I think there is one thing that is especially worth mentioning as “This is how we do it in Sweden…”. Something that is very relevant to nuclear transparency. Working for an environment NGO with nuclear waste issues as I do would be very much more difficult without the access to information that is part of the governmental Swedish bureaucratic system.
The Swedish “Principle of access to official information” – offentlighetsprincipen – comes from as far back as 1766 and is part of the Swedish constitution. Many countries have what is often called “freedom of information”, but in Sweden almost everything that is part of an issue being expedited by a state authority is free for anyone to ask for.
This means that not only official reports are available. Also any memoranda, minutes from meetings or correspondence by letter or e-mail are in the public domain. A civil servant is even required to register notes taken while having a telephone conversation with the registry if there could be a public interest in them.
The registry? Well, all Swedish governmental authorities have a special department – the Diarium – to make sure that everything that is supposed to be openly available is so. And that documents can be found when searched for. Thus every issue handled by an authority is given a “diarie number” and under that number documents, correspondence, etc. are filed. Nowadays most often electronically.
For someone like me working with nuclear issues it is quite fantastic that the authority that perhaps has the most open culture in Sweden is the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, SSM. The Swedish nuclear regulator is one of the few Swedish authorities that have an E-diarium. This means that all the documents, correspondence, etc. are searchable on the SSM web site.
Even though it is all in Swedish I would invite anyone interested in nuclear transparency to go to the Swedish part of the SSM web site http://www.stralsakerhetsmyndigheten.se and press the link “E-diarium”. Then put for example the acronym of the Swedish nuclear waste company SKB in one of the search positions and see what happens. See something you would like to have as a PDF? Just e-mail the registrar and you will most likely have the document within a day.
So all correspondence between the Swedish nuclear regulator and the Swedish nuclear industry is openly available. Some things are regarded as restricted for commercial reasons and sometimes safeguard issues mean that SSM will not give access to a document or parts of it. But the regulator is not keen on keeping things secret. And if you think that SSM is trying to hide something you can appeal the decision to the court system.
So is this a success story of “This is how we do it in Sweden…”? Well, to a certain extent. Maybe even a large extent. But for someone like me working with nuclear waste issues there is one big problem. The Swedish division of responsibilities with regard to management of nuclear waste means that the nuclear industry, with its nuclear waste company SKB, is responsible for all research and development on nuclear waste.
And the Swedish access to information does not apply to private companies. No matter how much the work of the nuclear waste company SKB would be in the public interest to know more about. So, I can follow all the interchange between SKB and SSM through the SSM diarium. And all the details of research projects SSM carries out I can get as they come out. Even interim reports.
But if I want to information about research SKB is carrying out it is up to the company to give me what they think I should have. Which is usually not much. Which can be a problem.
But that is another transparency story.”