Special to CNET News.com
August 18, 1998, 12:00 p.m. PT
STOCKHOLM--Swedes may get an unwelcome foretaste of their plan to
phase out nuclear power by 2010 unless computer experts crush the 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
around 50 percent of the country's total output. Testing has shown that the millennium bug
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.
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.
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.
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
Programmers had used 999, or "zero" in computer language, to store unidentified
information which interfered with the plant's operation.
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
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.
Story Copyright © 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.