Expansion of Finnish nuclear power ruled out

Haavisto fires opening shot in electoral campaign, cites Swedish, German, policy switches

Finnish environment minister Pekka Haavisto has predicted that Finland will not, as has been widely forecast, build any new nuclear power generating capacity in future. A member of Finland's minority Green party, Mr Haavisto said in a speech this weekend that it would be "difficult – in practice impossible" for Finland to build a fifth reactor in the light of decisions by Sweden and Germany to phase out nuclear power.

Construction of an additional power station has been under discussion for several years, but the Social Democrat prime minister, Paavo Lipponen, put the debate on ice when his five-party left-green-right "rainbow coalition" took power in 1995. Employers' associations and labour unions, as well as the Conservative party, have continued to lobby for construction because of the jobs it would generate.

More recently, expanding nuclear power generation has been promoted as a way to help Finland stabilise its greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2008-2012, the country's commitment under the EU's Kyoto "bubble". Last year, the finance ministry predicted that Finland could not meet the target without constructing a new 2000MW nuclear plant (ENDS Daily 8 April 1998).

Mr Haavisto – who was speaking as official campaigning for the elections started – said he thought the shortfall could be made up instead by the expansion of voluntary agreements on energy saving and by further investments in renewable energy. Last autumn's budget set aside money for research into biomass production from wood left over after logging.

The minister also predicted that consumers would start to switch away from electricity suppliers generating power from nuclear sources following last summer's deregulation of the electricity market. Half of Finland's electricity companies are already producing "green" electricity, according to environment ministry sources, and Mr Haavisto said the concept was becoming an increasingly popular choice in northern Europe.

He also suggested that neighbouring Sweden's decision to start phasing out nuclear power was behind its achievement of a 4% growth commitment for greenhouse gas emissions in the EU "burden sharing" deal. Sweden was one of only five EU countries to win the right to a positive emissions trend between 1990 and 2008-2012.

Debate on the nuclear issue is expected to intensify in Finland over the next two months as campaigning gets into full swing before the elections on 21 March. Environment ministry sources predict that the state of the Baltic sea, and in particular continuing problems with algal blooms caused by pollution from agriculture and transport, will be another important issue.

Follow Up:
Finnish environment ministry, tel: +358 9 19911.

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