Nuclear Energy in Denmark

(Updated January 2021)

  • Denmark generates about 20% of its electricity from coal, and over 45% from wind.
  • Each half of the country is part of separate major electrical grids.
  • Denmark was once at the forefront of nuclear research and had planned on building nuclear power plants.
  • In 1985, the Danish parliament passed a resolution that nuclear power plants would not be built in the country and there is currently no move to reverse this situation.

Electricity sector

Total generation (in 2018): 30.4 TWh

Generation mix: wind 13.9 TWh (46%); biofuels & waste 6.6 TWh (22%); coal 6.6 TWh (22%); natural gas 2.1 TWh (7%); solar 0.9 TWh (3%); oil 0.3 TWh (1%).

Import/export balance: 5.2 TWh net import (15.6 TWh imports; 10.4 TWh exports).

Total consumption: 31 TWh

Per capita consumption: c. 5400 kWh in 2018

Source: International Energy Agency and The World Bank. Data for year 2018.

Electricity generation figures for Denmark may be misleading since it is neither unified electrically nor isolated – East Denmark (Zeeland) and West Denmark (Jutland & Funen) are connecteda only by a 500 MWe link and each is part of a major grid system. East Denmark is part of the Nordic grid and is not synchronized with the main continental zone. Total generating capacity was 15.1 GWe at end of 2018.

In 2018, 10.4 TWh was exported and 15.6 TWh imported, comprising 1.4 TWh (net) imported from Germany, 2.4 TWh (net) from Norway, and 1.5 TWh (net) from Sweden. Per capita electricity use is about 5400 kWh/yr and has been largely unchanged since 1990. Electricity prices in Denmark are the second highest among Europe (Germany's are highest)b

Energinet.dk is the transmission system operator and owner of the main electrical infrastructure in Denmark. It took over in 2005 from Elkraft in East Denmark, and Eltra in West Denmark. Ørsted is the main power producer, 50% government-owned, and with significant offshore wind capacity. (DONG Energy divested oil and gas – the ONG part of its name – and become Ørsted in 2017.)

Denmark's electricity mix

Robust connection between Norway's hydro turbines and West Denmark's wind turbines holds the key to successful exploitation of wind for Denmark, and the German and Swedish connections are nearly as importantc. The power imported from Sweden is almost half nuclear and half hydro. About 50% of the power imported from Germany is from coal or natural gas. (Germany itself imports 9 to 20 TWh/yr from France, which is 70% nuclear.) Norway is almost all hydro.

The wind turbines depend heavily for their effective utilization on over 30 GWe of hydro capacity in Norway, over 1.7 GWe of which can be dispatched promptly when wind power is unavailable in West Denmark. The Skagerrak HVDC link is owned and operated by Statnett in Norway, and Energinet.dk in Denmark. Hence, there is a natural and felicitous interdependence between West Denmark's wind and Norway's hydro. With good winds, power can be exported back to Norway and there conserve hydro potentiald. This explains why the net import-export balance of electricity with Norway is very variable.

Although over 40% of electricity is produced by wind, the country's use of this electricity is much lower. A 2009 report by Danish policy think tank CEPOS estimates that Denmark consumes around half of its wind-generated electricity on averagee1. Wind power is heavily subsidized by Denmark but, because this power is exported at the spot price, the subsidies are effectively exported. Moreover, the countries that the wind-generated power is exported to – mainly Norway and Sweden – are largely carbon neutral in regard to power generation, so Denmark's exported wind power does not save carbon dioxide emissions, instead displacing carbon neutral generation. On the other hand, wind power consumed within Denmark lowers fossil generation in the country.

Danish fossil fuel generation is also lowered during 'wet' years in Scandinavia, since the greater hydropower capacity in the north (particularly Norway) becomes more economic than Denmark's thermal generation. In 'dry' years, when Norway and Sweden need to import more electricity, thermal generation in Denmark is higher. For example, total Danish electricity generation was 42.9 billion kWh in 2006 – a dry year – and dropped in subsequent wetter years. This accounts for thermal generation in Denmark being higher in 2006 (33.6 billion kWh) than subsequently, and net exports being higher in 2006 than in following years.

Electricity generation in Denmark (TWh)3

Year 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Total generation 42.9 37.0 36.6 36.4 38.8 35.2 30.4 34.7 32.2 29.0 30.5 31.0 30.4
Thermal generation 33.6 29.8 24.6 29.6 31.1 25.4 20.1 23.1 18.5 14.2 17.0 15.5 15.5
Wind generation 6.1 7.2 6.9 6.7 7.8 9.8 10.3 11.1 13.1 14.1 12.8 14.8 13.9
Net exports (imports) 6.9 0.96 (1.5) (0.3) 1.1 (1.3) (5.2) (1.1) (2.9) (5.9) (5.1) (4.6) (5.2)

Source: International Energy Agency

Early in 2009, Nord Pool announced that from October the spot floor price for surplus power would drop from zero to minus 20 Euro cents/kWh. In other words, wind generators producing power in periods of low demand will have to pay the network to take it. Nord Pool stated: "A negative price floor has been in demand for some time – especially from participants trading Elspot in the Danish bidding areas. In situations with high wind feed in Denmark there have been incidents where sales bids have been curtailed at price €0. Curtailment of sales may give an imbalance cost for the affected seller and thus creates a willingness to pay in order to deliver power in the market."4 This has increased the negative effect on the economics of wind power in Denmark, since a significant amount of its wind power production is affected.

Government policy

Denmark has had a wide range of incentives for renewables and particularly wind energy, accounting for nearly one-third of total wholesale electricity prices. Apart from the Purchase Obligation (PO) for renewables providing an effective subsidy, there is a further economic cost borne by power utilities' customers. When there is a drop in wind, back-up power is bought from the Nordic power pool at the going rate. Similarly, any surplus electricity is sold to the pool, though it is deemed to be non-PO power. The net effect of this has been increased costs as wind capacity expanded.

There is broad agreement on energy policy across the main political parties. In 1999, Parliament overwhelmingly agreed to electricity reform, which aimed to introduce competition to the sector, and promote renewable sources of generation and carbon dioxide reduction measures5. Electricity policy has been updated since then, always with large parliamentary majorities. The current target is for renewables to meet at least half of the country's total energy consumption by 2030.

Nuclear research and development

The nuclear power industry owes much to Denmark, in particular to the physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962), who received the 1922 Nobel Prize for Physics "for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them." In 1921, Bohr established the Institute for theoretical Physics (renamed the Niels Bohr Institute in 1965), where nuclear fission was verified experimentally for the first time in early 1939.

Denmark had three nuclear research reactors, which started up between 1957 and 1960, at the Risø National Laboratory north of Roskilde on the island of Zeeland. DR-1, a 2kWt homogeneous unit from 1957, stopped operating in 2001 and was fully decommissioned in 2006. A 5 MWt pool reactor (DR-2) closed in 1975, and a 10 MWt heavy water reactor (DR-3) closed in 2000. Fuel fabrication facilities for DR-2 and DR-3 were closed in 2002.

The Risø National Laboratory was incorporated into the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and is now known as the Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy. Although fission research at Risø has stopped, nuclear research (including fusion) still continues and its Hevesy Laboratory houses a cyclotron, which is used for radioactive isotope production.

Radioactive waste management

Used fuel from the DR-2 and DR-3 research reactors has been returned to the USAf, but the country still has some low- and intermediate-level (LILW) radioactive waste that will require disposal6. This waste is stored at Risø pending the selection and construction of a LILW final repository.

With decommissioning of two of the three research reactors completed, and the third ongoing, the government has been seeking to identify a final repository site for the 5000 cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste and the 233 kg of spent uranium fuel.

Initially, 22 areas were identified as possible final repositories for the waste generated over the past 50 years. This narrowed down to six sites based on a geological assessment in a 300-year perspective, and a final selection was due about 2012, but has been deferred indefinitely, while the prospects of exporting the waste are explored. The cost of establishing a permanent depository is expected to be somewhere between 180 and 500 million kroner, in addition to the estimated one billion kroner expenses for decommissioning the reactors.

Intermediate-level waste will be put in a two-layered metallic cylinder, the two layers separated by a 5 cm layer of concrete. The cylinder itself is wrapped into a concrete container and placed some 30 metres underground.

Uranium mining in Greenland

Greenland Minerals & Energy acquired the Kvanefjeld rare earths and uranium project in Greenland in 2007, and is proceeding towards development of it, including the 228,000 tonnes of uranium, 32,800 tU as reserves. Start-up costs for a 3 Mtpa plant are estimated at $1121 million for mine, concentrator and refinery, plus $240 million for infrastructure in the May 2015 feasibility study.

In November 2012 the Greenland government voted unanimously to support the project, including uranium, and in October 2013 it repealed the long-standing policy banning uranium development. It noted that it is Denmark’s responsibility to ensure that international conventions, such as non-proliferation, are respected, since Greenland remains part of the kingdom of Denmark and its defence and foreign policies are still determined by Copenhagen. The Additional Protocol to Denmark’s safeguards agreement with IAEA, specifically for Greenland, entered into force in March 2013.

In January 2016 the governments of Denmark and Greenland reached agreements concerning the export control and security of uranium and other radioactive substances from Greenland and the definition of competencies in the raw materials sector. The Danish parliament passed legislation on safeguards and export controls in June 2016, assuming responsibility for the application of international safeguards. Corresponding legislation was passed by the Greenland parliament in May. This creates the legal framework for uranium exports from Greenland. EU regulations form the basis for legislation on safeguards and dual-use export controls, along with a joint Danish-Greenland commitment to observe the highest international standards such as those practised in Australia and Canada. This means that all Greenland uranium will be exported under bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements similar to those in Australia and Canada, and applying under Euratom, as well as being under IAEA safeguards.

Non-proliferation

Denmark has a safeguards agreement with the IAEA in force, and an Additional Protocol in force since 2004. It has also signed and ratified an Additional Protocol for Greenland, in force since March 2013.

Though Greenland is independent in respect to mining, international obligations such as safeguards arrangements for uranium exports will be handled by Denmark, as outlined above.

See also Kvanefjeld section of Uranium from Rare Earths Deposits paper.


Notes & references

Notes

a. East Denmark's power system is synchronized with the Nordic system, and that of West Denmark's is synchronized with the continental European system. East and West Denmark are connected only through a 500 MW DC cable completed in 2010. [Back]

b. Electricity prices for Danish household consumers in the first half of 2019 were €0.28 per kWh. [Back]

c. Trade from West Denmark is through the 1700 MW Skagerrak HVDC connector to Norway, a 740 MW DC link to Sweden, and a 1780 MW AC connection to Germany (in the southbound direction; northbound, the transmission capacity is about 1500 MW, depending on congestion in the surrounding grids). This may rise to 3 GWe in each direction from 2021. From East Denmark there is a 600 MW DC connector to Germany and a 1900 MW AC link to Sweden. A 700 MWe, 500 kV HVDC Light link is being built to supplement the Norway connection, and a 700 MWe link to Netherlands is planned. [Back]

d. There is some controversy over the question as to how much of Denmark's wind is consumed within its borders. However, rises and falls in wind generated electricity appear to be accompanied by corresponding rises and falls in exports. But this is not the complete picture: there are also corresponding falls and rises in Denmark's thermal generation. [Back]

e. Criticism of Danish wind power always attracts controversy, and the CEPOS report (see Reference 1 below) is no exception. Soon after its publication, the findings were countered by a report by the CEESA (Coherent Energy and Environmental System Analysis) Research Project2 (see www.ceesa.dk).

It should be noted that the CEPOS report was funded by American Institute of Energy Research (see www.instituteforenergyresearch.org) and seems to be aimed at addressing the analogy made by President Barack Obama in his 22 April 2009 Earth Day speech, where he cited the example of Denmark and claimed that, by 2030, the USA could generate 20% of its electricity from wind. [Back]

f. Denmark has a small amount of used fuel from the DR-1 reactor. The government hopes to dispose of this in an international repository but, should such a solution not be found, this used fuel would be disposed of in a Danish low- and intermediate-level waste repository. [Back]

References

1. Wind Energy – The Case of Denmark, CEPOS (Center for Politiske Studier, Center for Political Studies), September 2009 [Back]
2. Danish Wind Power – Export and Cost, CEESA (Coherent Energy and Environmental System Analysis) Research Project (February 2010) [Back]
3. Environmental Report 2008, Energinet.dk (July 2008); Environmental Report 2007, Energinet.dk (July 2007); IEA data for 2008-11 [Back]
4. No.16/2009 Nord Pool Spot implements negative price floor in Elspot from October 2009, Nord Pool Spot AS market news (4 February 2009)
5. Web page on The five bills on the Danish electricity reform, as adopted by Folketinget on 28 May 1999 on the Danish Energy Agency website (www.ens.dk); Denmark - Regulatory Reform in Electricity: 1999, OECD Country Studies (December 2000) [Back]
6. National Report from Denmark, National Board of Health and National Institute of Radiation Protection, 7-307-40-8/1 (October 2008), presented at the Third Review Meeting of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management held on 11-22 May 2009 [Back]

General sources

Danish Energy Agency website
Energinet.dk website 
Risø DTU website
Website of Paul-Frederik Bach, Consultant in Development of Energy Systems


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