Finnish nuclear revival not seen in other Nordics

Friday, February 1, 2008

HELSINKI, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Finland is pressing ahead with a new atomic power station and Swedes have abandoned some of their deep-seated opposition to nuclear energy but other Scandinavian countries are unlikely to resort to it.

While governments worldwide have increasingly been looking to nuclear energy to reduce carbon emissions, Norway is set to rely on its abundant hydro-electric power and Denmark, a big emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), is expected to keep burning fossil fuels.

"We, the Nordic energy ministers, time after time come to the conclusion that we have very different energy policies. We haven't even tried to find a common nuclear energy policy," Finland's energy minister, Mauri Pekkarinen, said.

These differences persist despite extensive Nordic cooperation in other areas of energy such as the pan-Nordic power market, Nord Pool, which describes itself as the world's biggest electricity exchange.

To try to meet its high energy demand, Finland is one of few European countries to have begun building new nuclear capacity.

"In Finnish electricity production, nuclear has a significant role and also a notable role in our obligation to reduce CO2 emissions," Pekkarinen said.

The Finnish nuclear station was originally scheduled to start in 2009, but delays and rising costs have pushed completion back to 2011.

Neighbouring Sweden has watched progress closely, while its own existing nuclear fleet has suffered a series of technical problems and is to be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency this year.

Even so, a high number of Swedes favour the energy source.

An opinion poll conducted for the Dagens Nyheter daily by Synovate last week showed that 48 percent of Swedes backed building new nuclear power stations, with 39 percent against.
The result appears to mark a shift since a referendum in Sweden in 1980 voted for nuclear power to be phased out.

The head of one of the country' ruling centre-right alliance parties said this month Sweden should reconsider nuclear, citing the need to reduce carbon emissions.

In Finland, public support for nuclear energy is relatively low. According to a study by broadcaster YLE this month, only 28 percent Finns said the country should build enough nuclear capacity to replace the use of oil altogether.

But industry favours nuclear.

Apart from the planned fifth reactor, which should come online in 2011, utilities Fortum, Teollisuuden Voima (TVO) and the Fennovoima joint venture of Finnish industry and Germany's E.ON, have all announced plans to build new reactors in the next decade.

Their other options are limited as Finland has no oil of its own and wants to curb its reliance on
Russian natural gas.

In Denmark a leading energy source is wind power, which accounts for 20 percent of Danish electricity use. When the wind does not blow, supplies are topped up with coal or oil.
Denmark's 2006 carbon dioxide emissions were at 34.2 million tonnes, Finland's were 44.6 million and Sweden's 19.9 million.

Denmark has also imported nuclear power from neighbouring Sweden often in the face of heated controversy.

Denmark initially supported Sweden when it first planned to built a nuclear power plant at Barseback, just across the Oreseund Strait from Denmark.

But by the time it was completed in 1977, public opinion had swung against having a plant so close to Copenhagen and it became a focus of protests against nuclear power in Denmark.
The spat only ended when Sweden shut the plant in 2005.

Of the Scandinavian countries, Norway has the richest resources of climate-friendly energy, with hydroelectricity making up 99 percent of its power. Although nuclear power generation does not produce carbon emissions, uranium extraction and refining are carbon-intensive.

Norway does hold relatively large reserves of thorium, a naturally occurring radioactive metal that is seen a possible alternative to uranium as a fuel for atomic energy generation, but it is in no rush to develop this source.

"We are far away -- this is some time in the future, I don't know when," Knut Fjerdingstad, a spokesman for state-owned power company Statkraft, said of thorium's use as atomic fuel.
While the Norwegian government has commissioned a study into the use of thorium, the public is expected to remain sceptical.

"Norwegian public opinion and also politicians, and especially the red-green government we have today, are quite negative (towards nuclear power)," said Fjerdingstad. (Reporting by Sami Torma in Helsinki, Simon Johnson in Stockholm, John Acher in Oslo and Kim McLaughlin in Copenhagen, editing by Anthony Barker)

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