Finland Bucks the Trend on Nuclear Power

HELSINKI, Finland, January 17, 2002 (ENS) - The Finnish cabinet breathed new life into Europe's nuclear industry today, voting 10 to six in favor of constructing a fifth nuclear power plant. A parliamentary vote, due this spring, is needed to ratify the decision. Strong opposition is anticipated, including from elements of the government's five party coalition, which includes the Green Party.

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The Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant is on Olkiluoto Island in Eurajoki, a municipality on the west coast of Finland where a long term nuclear waste disposal facility may be located. (Photos courtesy TVO)
The government's decision marks a dramatic departure from the current trend in Europe. No new nuclear capacity has come into operation for decades, and national governments, including Belgium, Sweden and Germany, have active plans to phase out all existing reactors.

Environmentalists are keeping up the pressure, painting nuclear power generation as an outdated and unsustainable industry.

According to the Finnish government, however, more nuclear power is the most cost effective option "for central government finances and the national economy."

Finnish energy firm Teollisuuden Voima Oy (TVO) would build the nuclear plant if it is approved.

The government says it will also help to stabilize electricity prices against a picture of rising demand and limited scope for boosting hydropower, and will enable Finland to replace current coal fired power stations and so reduce carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming.

Finland is having trouble in meeting its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. It must not permit greenhouse gas emissions to rise above 1990 levels, but they have soared by 29.6 percent since 1990, one of the largest increases in the world.

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Finnish Industry Minister Sinikka Mönkäre (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
Following today's decision, Finnish Industry Minister Sinikka Mönkäre stressed that the government was not interested solely in nuclear power. Great efforts were being made to support growth in renewable energy and to promote energy conservation, Mönkäre told journalists.

Europe's nuclear industry association Foratom welcomed the announcement. The decision "will hopefully serve as a reminder to EU policy makers that a fully diversified energy mix is really the only way forward," said its secretary general. "That means using all our available options, without making any exclusions for purely political reasons."

But the international environmental group Greenpeace slammed the decision, reiterating a threat to hit with protests the project's industrial backers, which include forest product company UPM-Kymmene, and paper and packaging manufacturer Stora Enso.

"Products of the Finnish telecommunications and paper industries are darkened by the nuclear shadow, said Greenpeace spokesman Tobias Muenchmeyer. "It is our duty to make people in Germany and other EU countries aware of this fact."

The Finnish cabinet also agreed "in principle" on the method of storing spent nuclear fuel from the new plant. Parliamentary ratification is needed for this decision, too. Finland's first permanent storage facility, to be located on the country's west coast, is due to begin operating in about 2020.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}