Dutch to weigh up benefits of nuclear power

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Netherlands has added its name to the growing list of European countries that might build nuclear power stations to help meet their greenhouse gas targets.

Maria van der Hoeven, Dutch economics minister, said she could not envisage a nuclear-free future if the government was to meet its CO 2 targets.

"We are very gas dependent and we have to do something about it," she said. "In my opinion it will be very difficult to achieve a clean energy household in 2050 without nuclear energy."

She is due to present a report to parliament next month outlining Dutch energy options.

Although no decision is likely to be taken by the present government, the Dutch face an increasing challenge as their domestic natural gas reserves, which represent 61 per cent of power generating capacity, start to diminish.

The country has one nuclear power station, at Borssele in the south. Nuclear power makes up less than 2 per cent of the Dutch domestic electricity mix, compared with 28 per cent in Germany, 21 per cent in Britain and 78 per cent in France.

Borssele, built in 1973, had been due to close in 2004 but the government extended its operational life until 2033.

"Do you have to build a nuclear energy plant or do you import energy generated by nuclear from France, which is what we are doing now?" said Ms van der Hoeven.

"So there are two questions: can we do without - and I don't think we can - and do we need our own nuclear power plant?"

Across Europe, politicians are reassessing nuclear policy. While the German parliament voted in 2000 to phase out nuclear power by 2030, Angela Merkel, chancellor, has said she would extend the life of some power stations if re-elected.

Sweden has delayed the phase-out of its nuclear power from 2010 to 2035 or beyond and while Spain is also theoretically phasing out nuclear power by not adding new capacity, the argument for nuclear is gaining ground.

Russia, the country benefiting most from the widespread use of natural gas, has announced plans to build 26 nuclear power stations in the next 12 years.

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