Nuclear Energy in Denmark

  • 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.
  • Over 50% of electricity production in Denmark is from wind, but much of this is exported.
  • Each half of the country is part of separate major electrical grids.

Electricity sector

Total generation (in 2020): 28.8 TWh

Generation mix: wind 16.4 TWh (57%); biofuels & waste 6.7 TWh (23%); coal 3.1 TWh (11%); natural gas 1.2 TWh (4%); solar 1.2 TWh (4%); oil 0.2 TWh (1%).

Import/export balance: 6.2 TWh net import (18.9 TWh imports; 12.7 TWh exports)

Total consumption: 30.4 TWh

Per capita consumption: c. 5200 kWh in 2020

Source: International Energy Agency and The World Bank. Data for year 2020.

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 15.5 GWe at the end of 2020. 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 became Ørsted in 2017.)

Electricity prices for household consumers in Denmark in the first half of 2021 were the second highest in Europe (after Germany) and the highest during the second halfb. 2021 has been described by as a “historically bad” year of wind speeds.

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 about 40% nuclear and 40% hydro. About 45% of the power imported from Germany is from coal or natural gas. 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 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 conserve hydro potential thered. This explains why the net import-export balance of electricity with Norway is variable.

Although about half of the electricity produced in Denmark is from wind, the country's use of this electricity is lower in any given year. A 2009 report by Danish policy think tank CEPOS estimated that Denmark consumes around half of its wind-generated electricity on averagee1.

Denmark’s generation of electricity declined by over 30% between 2006 and 2020 (see table below) as coal has been progressively phased out, and the government has focused on energy efficiency. Domestic generation has been in part replaced by increased imports of electricity, principally from Norway and Sweden.

Electricity generation in Denmark (TWh)3

Year 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Total generation 45.6 39.3 36.6 36.4 38.8 35.2 30.4 34.7 32.2 29.0 30.5 31.0 30.4 29.5 28.8
Thermal generation 39.5 32.1 24.6 29.6 31.1 25.4 20.1 23.1 18.5 14.2 17.0 15.5 15.5 12.4 11.2
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 16.2 16.4
Exports 13.7 11.4 11.4 10.9 11.7 10.4 10.7 10.4 9.8 9.7 9.9 10.7 10.4 10.2 12.7
Imports 6.8 10.4 12.8 11.2 10.6 11.7 15.9 11.5 12.7 15.6 15.0 15.2 15.6 16.0 18.9

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 100% of electricity and 55% 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.

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 Limited acquired the Kvanefjeld rare earths and uranium project in Greenland in 2007. Start-up costs for a 3 Mt/yr plant were estimated at $1120 million for mine, concentrator and refinery, plus $240 million for infrastructure in a May 2015 feasibility study. Total ore reserves of 108 million tonnes contain uranium at 362 ppm U3O8, comprising 43 million tonnes of proven reserves with 352 ppm U3O8 (12,834 tU) and 64 million tonnes of probable reserves with 368 ppm U3O, (19,970 tU).

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 the International Atomic Energy Agency (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 created 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 meant that all Greenland uranium was to 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.

However, in November 2021 Greenland’s parliament passed legislation prohibiting the investigation, exploration and exploitation of uranium. In March 2022 Greenland Minerals requested arbitration proceedings in its dispute with the governments of Greenland and Denmark concerning the impact of the legislation. Greenland Minerals said it held discussions with the Greenland government to determine the effect (if any) of the legislation on the company's entitlements under its existing exploration licence, but that this had “failed to deliver any viable solution.”


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


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 600 MW DC cable completed in 2010. [Back]

b. Electricity prices (including taxes) for Danish household consumers in the second half of 2019 were €0.34 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). 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 has been built to supplement the Norway connection, and a 700 MWe link to Netherlands is under construction. [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

It should be noted that the CEPOS report was funded by the US-based Institute for Energy Research (IER, see 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]


1. Wind Energy – The Case of Denmark, CEPOS (Center for Politiske Studier, Centre for Political Studies), September 2009 [Back]
2. Henrik Lund et al., Danish Wind Power – Export and Cost, CEESA (Coherent Energy and Environmental System Analysis) Research Project (February 2010) [Back]
3. Environmental Report 2008, (July 2008); Environmental Report 2007, (July 2007); International Energy Agency data [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 (; 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 website 
Risø DTU website
Website of Paul-Frederik Bach, Consultant in Development of Energy Systems

Renewable Energy and Electricity
Uranium From Rare Earths Deposits