Finland set to boost atomic power against EU trend
HELSINKI - Finland looks set to become the first west European country in over a decade to approve the construction of a new nuclear reactor in a move aimed at meeting future energy needs and greenhouse gas targets.
Parliament is expected to pass by a very slim majority on Friday the five-party coalition government\'s proposal to build a fifth nuclear power station, but as some members are undecided it is not yet a done deal, according to recent opinion polls.
If it approves the bill it will be the first such plan since 1991 when France authorised the construction of a new reactor, completed two years ago, Greenpeace International said.
Ever since the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, which spread radiation across Europe, many governments have moved to seek alternative energy sources.
Pro-nuclear campaigners say a \"yes\" vote will finally get Western Europe moving towards more nuclear power, as Eastern European and Asian countries are already building reactors.
\"It will help leaders in Western Europe persuade their public,\" said John Ritch, director-general at the World Nuclear Association, an organisation promoting nuclear power.
The anti-nuclear lobby has criticised the government for casting aside health and security risks, particularly important since the September 11 attacks against the United States. They also say it is caving in to industry.
\"This is vested interest of the Finnish industry,\" said Tobias Muenchmeyer, nuclear expert at Greenpeace, referring to the fact that some of Finland\'s biggest companies, like Fortum and UPM-Kymmene, would fund the construction.
LIFT ECONOMY, CUT GREENHOUSE GASES
The government says it needs more reactors to ensure economic growth continues, meet targets of the 1997 Kyoto accord on climate change and cut its dependence on Russia, which provides most of its imported energy.
Some 71 percent of energy is imported and was worth more than 4.5 billion euros in 2000. Neighbouring Sweden and Norway are less reliant on imports. It would cost up to 2.5 billion euros ($2.32 billion) to build the reactor and it would be completed in 2008 at the earliest. But first parliament will need to approve a separate plan for the actual construction.
The European Union has left the decision on nuclear energy up to each member country.
Recent opinion polls show that a slight majority of Finns back more nuclear power, partly because Finland will be able to meet its Kyoto targets.
Under the Kyoto pact, developed nations agreed to curb emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for blanketing the globe and driving up temperatures. Rich nations aim to cut their emissions of gases like carbon dioxide blamed for global warming by an average of five percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
The Environment Ministry says it is on track to meet that target but says one of the challenges is to cut its reliance on coal which accounts for 10 percent of its electricity supply.
The Green Party, a government member that has threatened to quit if parliament backs the proposal, was critical.
\"Nuclear power wards off the greenhouse phenomenon like a shot of liquor a hangover,\" said Osmo Soininvaara, chairman of the Green Party.
(Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo).
Story by Paul de Bendern
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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