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Finnish parliament approves two new nuclear reactors

by Staff Writers
Helsinki, Finland (AFP) July 1, 2010
Finland's parliament on Thursday approved the building of two new nuclear reactors in a move the government said would help fight climate change and create jobs but that was widely denounced by environmentalists.

"This is one of the most important decisions my government is going to make, because it really improves Finland's competitiveness and will create new jobs, and thus also increase the economic growth," Finnish Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi told AFP after the vote.

In the non-partisan vote, 121 members of parliament cast their ballot to allow utility group Fennovoima build a new reactor, 71 voted against and two abstained, while Teollisuuden Voima (TVO) received 120 votes in favour of building another reactor, 72 against and two abstaining.

The difference in votes between the two projects was due to the fact that some members of parliament had wanted just one new nuclear reactor to be built.

All Green League MPs meanwhile voted against the bill proposed in April by the centre-right government of Matti Vanhanen, who recently resigned and handed the reins to Kiviniemi.

Labour Minister Anni Sinnemaeki of the Green League said she was not surprised but "very disappointed" by the vote.

"Among the Finnish decision makers there is clearly a majority for nuclear power (but) as for the Finnish people... the majority is not for nuclear power," she told AFP, lamenting "a clear gap between the people and the decision makers."

Several hundred demonstrators also gathered outside the parliament and a few activists with environmental group Greenpeace briefly protested the voted inside parliament before they were led out.

The government decided in April to award the construction permits, arguing that the new reactors would help cut greenhouse gas emissions and make the Nordic country self-sufficient in electricity production.

Finland's four existing nuclear reactors were built in the 1970s, and a fifth unit, a 1,600-megawatt third-generation reactor, is being built on TVO's site in southwestern Finland by France's Areva and Germany's Siemens in a project plagued by delays and ballooning costs.

"Parliament's decision to give permission for two more reactors is an economic disaster," Greenpeace said in a statement Thursday, adding the Olkiluoto 3 reactor showed that "not only does nuclear energy block investments in renewable energies, but it is also a bottomless pit financially."

Once an opponent to more nuclear power, Kiviniemi said Thursday she was now convinced building more reactors was necessary.

"We're obliged to reach a level of 38 percent renewable resources. We're struggling against climate change and we also need to use nuclear power. We have to look at the energy policy not only in details but as a whole," she said.

Jarmo Tanhua, the head of TVO which already operates two nuclear power reactors in Olkiluoto and has commissioned the building of Olkiluoto 3, agreed.

"The decision made today is an important milestone towards the EU vision of CO2 neutral energy production," he said in an email responding to questions from AFP.

Fennovoima, whose owners include numerous Finnish companies and the Nordic arm of German electricity group E.ON, is a newcomer to Finland's nuclear landscape and wants to build its plant either in Simo or Pyhaejoki on Finland's western coast.

"The next step will be in 2011, when the location for the nuclear power plant is chosen between the two greenfield sites being developed in Pyhaejoki and Simo," Fennovoima chief executive Tapio Saarenpaeae said in an email to AFP.

Construction of the new power plant would begin in 2014 and it was expected to begin generating electricity in 2020, he added.

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