Government behind number five

1 February 2002

The Finnish government has given its support for plans to construct a new nuclear unit - the country's fifth.

On January 17 the country's five-party coalition government voted 10-6 in favour of the scheme. Two members of the government abstained. The measure, which was proposed by power utility TVO just over a year ago, is due to go before parliament this month, with a vote expected in spring.

The site of the proposed new unit will be either at TVO's two-unit Olkiluoto plant or near Fortum's two-unit Loviisa plant.

Environment minister Satu Hassi, of the Green party, argued that the nuclear option would lead to more air pollution. She claimed that the expectation of a massive increase in nuclear generating capacity would lead to a slower rate of replacement of coal-fired plants by natural gas plants than with the non-nuclear alternative. During construction of the nuclear unit therefore, there will be more pollution arising from coal. Instead, she proposed the replacement of coal by a massive increase in natural gas, alongside energy saving measures. She claimed this would achieve the desired results - primarily meeting the country's requirements under the Kyoto treaty on limiting greenhouse gas emissions - at only slightly greater costs than the nuclear option, if at all.

A similar proposal by TVO and Imatran Voima, now part of Fortum, was rejected by parliament in September 1993 after nine months of debate. However, the political climate has changed over the last few years and the present initiative is likely to be passed by a comfortable majority. Public opinion in the country is also now clearly more favourable towards nuclear.

Last year, prime minister Paavo Lipponen said that moves by some western countries to give up the option of using nuclear power as part of a national energy mix were "economically absurd".

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