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Survey says Finns support nuclear option

20 May 2002 – The latest opinion poll carried out by Gallup indicates that the majority of people in Finland support the construction of a fifth nuclear reactor as the best way of addressing the country’s future power needs.

The poll is the first to show the balance in favour of the application, which will be debated and voted upon in parliament next week. 54 per cent of those surveyed said that they supported the proposal provided other energy sources were also expanded.

The last poll carried out by Gallup in January showed only 40 per cent in favour since when several parliamentary committees have indicated there approval of the application to build.

Following the poll, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen said that Finland depended too much on imported energy, particularly from Russia, and could not afford to let that dependence grow.

“This is a question of maintaining the diversity of our energy supply and also of being able to reduce our dependence on imports, because now we are 70 per cent dependent on imports and 50 percent dependent on imports from Russia,” Lipponen said.

The parliament is believed to be narrowly in favour of the new plant, even though the trend among European Union nations in recent years has been to seek alternatives to such reactors.

The five-party coalition government, which includes the anti-nuclear Green Party, has said the best way to meet both Finland’s rising energy demands and its obligations to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto protocol was to build the country’s first new reactor for more than two decades.

Supporters said a key reason for Finland’s determination to push ahead was its desire to be more self-sufficient and reduce reliance on imports, particularly from Russia, its former foe.

According to the poll of 1,626 people conducted from April 29 to May 5, three-quarters of Finns opposed too much reliance on Russian energy, and 58 per cent said it was better to expand nuclear power than import electricity from their huge neighbour.

Finland has four nuclear reactors at two installations. It has no oil or gas of its own.

Opponents of nuclear energy believe nuclear generation poses excessive health and environmental risks, so other energy sources should be favoured.

The last proposal to build a reactor was delayed in 1986 following the Chernobyl reactor disaster in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. Parliament finally voted to reject that plan in 1993.

Energy group Teollisuuden Voima, which has applied for the permit to build the reactor, has estimated construction costs of up to €2.5bn ($2.30bn), depending on generator capacity. The company has said it would fund most of the project.