Nuclear back on Europe's energy agenda

Finnish group's application for new power station marks first western European proposal for over 15 years

Finnish energy firm TVO yesterday applied for permission to build a new nuclear power station, marking the first solid proposal for new nuclear capacity in western Europe since the mid-1980s. In its announcement - very likely timed to influence opinion at the ongoing international climate talks in The Hague - the company stressed the need for nuclear to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Europe's nuclear industry reacted to the news with unrestrained joy. "The announcement has enormous significance, coming as it does during the crucial UN climate change conference," said trade association Foratom. "Europe's nuclear industry has taken on a truly buoyant mood," it added.

TVO's application triggers a three-stage licensing process. The government must now decide whether to back the proposal, following which the parliament must approve or reject it. This step is likely next summer, an industry ministry official told ENDS Daily.

Finnish political opinion over the prospect of a fifth nuclear station is split, with social democrat industry minister Sinikka Mönkäre thought to be in favour and Green environment minister Satu Hassi publicly against (ENDS Daily 31 May 1999). MPs are more or less evenly divided, while Finnish industry is strongly in favour (ENDS Daily 22 May).

With a planned capacity of 1,000 to 1,500 megawatts depending on the exact design, the plant would cost up to euros 2.5bn to build, according to TVO, and should take four years to construct. The firm hopes to obtain a construction licence by 2003 or 2004 and have the plant in operation by 2008.

Over a quarter of Finland's electricity already comes from nuclear power. The country's hydroelectric generating capacity varies considerably according to the weather, and Finnish industry is reluctant to increase dependence on increasingly expensive imported fossil fuels or increase electricity imports. TVO's projections also suggest that some 2,000 megawatts of generating capacity, mainly based on imported coal, will reach the end of its operating life between 2010 and 2015.

Finnish environmental groups are strongly opposed to any new nuclear capacity and launched a last-minute effort to stop TVO's application earlier this week (ENDS Daily 7 November). NGOs allege that the firm's real motive could be to avoid further energy efficiency policy measures aimed at cutting emissions or force cuts in the price of Russian natural gas.

Follow Up:
TVO, tel: +358 2 83811, see also press release and further information.

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