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Finns blaze nuclear trail

01.01.70

In its patient, pragmatic approach to the generation of electricity by nuclear power, Finland has much to teach the rest of Europe.

In this country, the review headed by Malcolm Wicks, the energy minister, and the government-appointed Committee on Radioactive Waste Management are due to publish their recommendations later this year.

Sweden, which decided in 1980 to phase out nuclear power generation, has decided to upgrade some reactors to compensate for the closure of others. A debate along similar lines is under way in Germany.

The wish to cut CO2 emissions, the rapid rise in fossil fuel prices and heightened concern about the security of gas and oil imports have all contributed to a revaluation of nuclear plants as a source of electricity.

In this, Finland has been a pioneer. The radioactive shadow of Chernobyl contributed in 1993 to the rejection by parliament of a fifth nuclear plant. But a similar proposal gained a narrow majority (107 votes to 92) in 2002, the first such decision in western Europe for more than a decade.

The plant, Okiluoto 3, is expected to be in operation around 2009. As for spent fuel, the operators of the current facilities, TVO and Fortum, have undertaken to excavate a repository 1,640ft down in igneous rock.

TVO, which is building the fifth reactor, is a public-private partnership, in which the forestry giants UPM-Kymmene and Stora Enso and the state-controlled energy group Fortum, all heavy consumers, are major shareholders. The state has also established a waste management fund from charges on generated electricity.

Having taken fright after Chernobyl, Finland is set to increase the nuclear share of electricity supply from 26 per cent to 36 per cent.

Plans for storing waste fuel are well advanced. Paavo Lipponen, who was the Social Democratic prime minister at the time of the 2002 vote and is now parliamentary speaker, ascribes the change of heart to thorough public consultation set in the broadest possible perspective.

There are lessons here both for Britain, which has long shirked difficult decisions on nuclear energy, and for Germany, where the debate is excessively emotional.

Expert opinion

Halter Marek

02.12.06

Halter Marek
Le College de France
Olivier Giscard dEstaing

02.12.06

Olivier Giscard dEstaing
COPAM, France
Mika Ohbayashi

02.12.06

Mika Ohbayashi
Institute for Sustainable Energy Poliy
Bill Pace

02.12.06

Bill Pace
World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy
Peter I. Hajnal

01.12.06

Peter I. Hajnal
Toronto University, G8 Research Group