How Sweden exposed the Chernobyl catastrophe

If you haven’t seen the HBO series ‘Chernobyl’, do so. Probably one of the best series ever made, it depicts the events of the nuclear disaster that happened in the Soviet Union in 1986 killing up to an estimated 200,000 people (ref Greenpeace). It’s a vivid reminder of the perils of nuclear energy, and highly relevant to the growing debate in Sweden about the expansion of this form of energy production.

The series is directed by Swede Johan Renck, and stars many Swedish actors such as Stellan Skarsgård. However, what I didn’t know was how important Sweden’s involvement was in the discovery of the disaster.

Here’s how, taken from the European Parliament news page:

The alarm sounded at Forsmark, Sweden’s second largest nuclear power plant, when one of the employees passed one of the radiation monitors on his way back from the restroom. When it showed high levels of radiation coming from his shoes, staff at first worried an accident had taken place at the power plant. However, a thorough scan discovered that the real source of the radiation was some 1,100 kilometres away in the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl.

The early detection by the Forsmark plant, one hour north of Stockholm, played a crucial role in forcing Soviet authorities to open up about the disaster that happened in Chernobyl in April 1986.

Thanks to the power plant’s early detection, they could inform the Swedish authorities at an early stage, who then told the world about the radioactive pollution coming from the disaster in the Soviet Union.

Today, most harmful materials have decayed. But some harmful materials, such as Caesium and Plutonium, will remain in the environment over a longer period of hundreds, even thousands, of years, though at lower levels.’

Sweden was affected in other ways by the radioactive cloud that blew from Ukraine across the Baltic. Still today, people in the north of Sweden are dying of cancer brought on by exposure. As recently as 2017, hunters found a pack of wild boar containing more than 10 times the safe level of radiation.

In Norway, the levels of radioactivity have reduced over time but there are still exceptions. Most recently in 2018, values detected in meat and milk suddenly doubled. The reason turned out to be an unusually widespread crop of mushrooms that year. Fungi have the ability to absorb a lot of radioactivity, up to 1,000 times more than plants. Those yearly variations mean that there will be a need for control for many years to come.

Thanks to its geographical location, Sweden played an important role in the revealing of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe. But it also paid a high price, the effects of which will still be felt for generations to come.

Today, Sweden has 8 nuclear power plants producing about 40% of the country’s energy. This is despite a national referendum that voted to phase nuclear energy out by 2010. In 2015, decisions were made to phase out four older plants by 2020.

The constant question is can a disaster like Chernobyl happen again? And are we willing to take that risk?

One thing is for certain, the Chernobyl disaster showed us all that pollution has no borders.

11 hacks for surviving Swedish Midsummer

With Midsummer rapidly approaching on Friday this week, it is time to start planning for your survival.

Midsummer’s Eve is the craziest custom in the Swedish calender and the time of the year when Swedes go a little bonkers.

As a non-Swede, get ready to brace yourself. And follow this simple survival guide to make sure you make it to Midsummer’s Day in one piece.

Greet like a Swede. In Sweden it is considered polite to greet everybody individually, even if you plan to never speak to them again or remember their name. The appropriate way is as follows, shake hands and look direct in eyes, say ‘hej’ followed by your name. They will do the same. If you are feeling adventurous, follow it up with a ‘trevligt’ or even a ‘Glad Midsommar’. Job done. Now you can hit the booze.

Snaps is not the same as a shot. A lot of alcohol gets drunk on Midsummer’s Eve, especially beer and snaps  With the popularity of shots in recent years, it’s easy to make the mistake that Swedish snaps is the same thing. Believe me, it is not. Snaps can be up to 40% proof, considerably more than your normal shot. So, go easy and sip the snaps or see yourself slipping sideways off your chair before the dessert has even been put on the table.

Take tissue. Midsummer’s Eve is a looong day and you probably will need the loo at some point. The trouble is, so will everybody else – to the detriment of the supply of toilet paper. There’s a big chance you will be seeking relief in the woods so come equipped with the appropriate amounts of paper for your needs.

If shy, bring swimwear. Bathing in the icy June waters is a common activity at Midsummer. Swedes generally are not afraid of skinny dipping when they do this. If you are, then come prepared with swimwear and a towel.

Shelve your maturity. Part of Midsummer is dancing around the maypole, playing silly games, pretending to be a frog, participating in competitions. To survive this, it helps to conjour up your inner child and forget you are an adult for a while.

Protect yourself. Given the amount of alcohol consumed at Midsummer, it is no surprise that the most babies in Sweden are made on this day. If you don’t want to join the ranks of parents, remember to put it on before you put it in.

Throw in the thermals. It looks like it might be sunny and warm this Midsummer’s Eve. But it is good to be prepared. It is not unusual that temperatures fall into single figures and that pesky rain pours down onto the smorgasbord. So bring a jumper, a rain jacket and even thermals to enhance your experience.

Don’t expect culinary miracles on Midsummer’s Eve. The food is exactly the same as is eaten at Christmas and Easter, with a few small summery exceptions – strawberries, cream, dill and new potatoes.

Learn a drinking song. On Midsummer’s Eve, food and alcohol is accompanied by Swedish drinking songs.  Learn one in advance and shine at the table. Even better sing one in your own language and you are guaranteed to use those rubbers you packed just for the occasion. For me, ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor’ works every time.

Argue over the rules. At Midsummer a popular Swedish garden game is called kubb. Involving the throwing of sticks, everybody seems to have their own understanding of the way to play. If you want to feel really Swedish, make sure you start an argument about the rules.

Take pills. Of varying types. Allergy pills are good because there are flowers everywhere: on the table, in the maypole, on peoples’ heads. Pain killers are good as a lot of snaps is consumed. Indigestion pills are good as the food is oily, fatty, acidic, smoky and rich. The after day pill is good, well… because…

That’s it! Follow this guide and you are sure to have a wonderous Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden. Glad Midsommar!

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Where do the names of Swedish weekdays come from?

norse-god-iconsThe things you think about on a Monday afternoon. Sitting quietly, I started to reflect over where the Swedish words for the days of the week come from. After a little research, I found that all of them stem from Norse mythology. Additionally all, but one, are named after the Gods and Goddesses of that period.

Do you know which day is not named after a Norse God or Goddess?

  • Måndag – Monday – named after the Norse God ‘Måne’, which means moon.
  • Tisdag – Tuesday- named after the Norse God ‘Tyr’, a God of War
  • Onsdag – Wednesday – named after the Norse God ‘Oden’, the King God of Wisdom, War and Death
  • Torsdag – Thursday – named after the Norse God ‘Thor’, the God of Thunder
  • Fredag – Friday – named after the Norse Goddess ‘Freya’ or ‘Frigg’, the Goddess of Love and Fertility (also by the way Oden’s wife)
  • Lördag – Saturday – named not after a god, but after the Norse tradition of bathing – called ‘att löga sig’
  • Söndag – Sunday – named after the Nordic Goddess of the Sun – ‘Sol’ or ‘Sunna’.

If you’re interested in knowing how to pronounce the Swedish days of the week, check out this little film, and put your dancing shoes on!

10 Swedish words about the climate

The new words that arrive in a language reflect the main topics of the time. Thanks to the environmental issues that have taken precedence over the years, a bevy of new words has entered the Swedish language. Here are 10 of the newest Swedish environment words:

  1. Klimatångest – ‘climate anxiety’ – a sense of worry about the state of the climate and the environment
  2. Klimataktivist – ‘climate activist’ – someone who campaigns and fights for environmental issues
  3. Flygskam – ‘flying shame’ – the sense of shame that comes when travelling in a plane
  4. Klimatsmart – ‘climate clever’ – living in a way that is beneficial to the environment and climate
  5. Klimatkompensera – ‘to climate compensate’ – the extra fee you can pay when booking a flight that goes to research and development of more ‘climate clever’ solutions
  6. Plogga – to jog and pick up trash at the same time (combination of the Swedish words ‘jogga’ and ‘plocka’ which means pick)
  7. Klimatkollaps – ‘climate collapse’
  8. Plastbanta – ‘to plastic diet’ – the process of cutting down or removing plastic products from your home
  9. Klimatskuld – ‘climate debt’ – the debt that developed countries have to Mother Earth due to the overconsumption of natural resources
  10. Klimatavtryck – carbon footprint – the impact each and everyone of us has on the climate and environment

Do you know any other words that should be on this list?

If you’d like to check your carbon footprint, go to http://www.klimatkontot.se where you can answer some questions and see the result. The test is in Swedish and English.

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Sleepless in Stockholm

We are rapidly approaching Midsummer and the nights are getting lighter and lighter. Here in Stockholm, it is still daylight at 10pm and it starts to get dark towards midnight. For 6 weeks or so, we experience so-called ‘white nights’, where the sun is below the horizon for less than 6 hours. This makes it bloody difficult to motivate yourself to go to bed and, once there, to get to sleep.

Mind you, this is nothing compared to the northern town of Kiruna in Sweden, where from the 27 May to the 16 July the sun never sets and they have months and months of white nights.

Have you ever seen the movie ‘Insomnia’ with Al Pacino? Based on a Norwegian film with the same name, he plays a cop from LA who goes to Alaska to solve a crime. As time goes on, he suffers more and more from insomnia due to the day-round light and starts to lose his grip on reality. This time of year, I start to feel a bit like Al Pacino.

On week days, when you need to get up for work, nights are spent battling with the bright chinks of daylight that pierce the window shades and shine like an aura around the bedroom door. Effective sleep time is reduced to a few hours and, heavy headed in the morning, you climb into the shower like a zombie to try to bring yourself to life.

So how to survive this period of sleeplessness?

There are a few options:

  • Black-out blinds – sold amongst other places for a reasonable price at IKEA
  • Blindfold – stolen amongst other places from airlines
  • Sheet over head – not very comfortable and rather sweaty
  • Brick up the windows – probably not approved by the local council, or the residents’ board
  • Rain dancing – to try to conjure up dark clouds to block out the daylight
  • Get up and do yoga – no, just kidding
  • Drugs – always an option, but can bring on a whole new set of problems
  • Lavender under the pillow – supposed to relax you, just makes me sneeze and the bedroom smell
  • Take your bedding to the windowless bathroom and sleep in the bathtub – effective but tragic

Or alternatively, just suck it up and enjoy the white nights as an exotic natural Scandi-phenomenon. Reassure yourself that thankfully you don’t live in Kiruna, or Alaska.

And finally, philosophically remind yourself that this too will pass – and all too soon it will be day-round darkness.

In Sweden, parents curl. In the UK, they fly helicopters.


Recently somebody was telling me about one of his employees whose mother rang him to discuss her daughter’s salary. Another friend mentioned a man who brought his father to a job interview. I personally know a mother who does her 30-year old son’s laundry, cleaning, decorating and food shopping, even though he has his own apartment. And a 29-year old who asks his mother what he likes and should eat when they’re out at a restaurant. Teachers constantly witness about parents who demand them to increase their child’s grades. And a wave of protecting children from ‘hurt feelings’ is viral in Swedish schools, as though hurt feelings are the worst thing that can happen.

These are all clear examples of overprotective adults who don’t see that they are doing their offspring any favours in life by disempowering them by overhelping.

In Swedish, because it is so common, there is a word for these type of parents. They are known as ‘curling parents’ – a reference to the sport of ice curling. Just like in the icy sport, curling parents smooth the way for their children. They sweep away any obstacles and make life easier. They think they are taking their role as a parent seriously. Life is so difficult anyway that they should try to cushion the blows for their children. But what they’re really doing is robbing their children of the chance to develop essential life skills and feel a sense of personal responsibility and achievement.

This is of course not unique to Sweden – but rather more related to the anxious parenting style of the Baby Boomers and GenX around the world. In English-speaking countries, they are called helicopter parents, because they hover noisily over their children and look for difficulties ahead. Psychologists tell us that this form of parenting has coincided with an increased societal perception of child endangerment which has led to a base of paranoia. The age of the mobile phone has also contributed massively, one researcher referring to it as ‘the world’s largest umbilical chord’.

It is a difficult balance to strike, isn’t it? On the one hand, parents should love, guide and protect their children. On the other hand, they should equip their children to be independent, self-sufficient and capable adults.

Curling is not the solution. Links between overprotective parents and long-term mental problems in their children have been seen. Adult children of curling parents are often unable to regulate their own behavior.

Former Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims, drawing from her experiences seeing students come in academically prepared but not prepared to fend for themselves, wrote a book called ‘How to Raise an Adult’, in which she urges parents to avoid “overhelping” their children.

So I urge all parents in Sweden and beyond to take a long look at themselves. Are you overbearing, overprotective and over-controlling? Do you oversee every aspect of your child’s life? Are you providing yourself with happiness and security at the expense of your children?

Are you raising an independent, capable adult?

Swedish students truck off


This time of the year, a common sight and sound on the streets of Sweden is students on trucks.

Dressed in traditional white caps, and bolstered with alcohol, the students jump up and down to the booming music from loud speakers concealed in the vehicle. They scream, sing and shout and, if it’s a hot day like today, they spray beer on each other and sometimes unsuspecting pedestrians.

Many of them have banners hanging on the side of the trucks. Usually these are just informative but sometimes they’re personal, political or funny. One I saw today said ‘we’re doing this for you Frida’. Another one reported in the media was ‘if Stefan Löfven can become Sweden’s Prime Minister, then there’s hope for all of us.’

These youngsters are celebrating the end of their school career. Most of them are 19 years old and have just graduated from Sixth Form College/High School. 

It’s not all fun and games though. Every year the media reports accidents and injuries, which is not entirely unexpected considering the mad energy with which the students jump and scream. And trucks have been banned from certain roads and areas in the towns. 

In Sweden, doing ‘studenten’, as it’s called in Swedish, is a major rite of passage into adult life. The youngsters finish their last day at school, come running out of the building to be greeted by waiting parents and families. They then climb aboard their trucks for their lap of honour. After that they go around to each other’s homes where each family usually arranges a reception to honour the newly-graduated student. 

It is a very common sight on the streets of Sweden this time of the year and a refreshing reminder of the hopefulness of youth.