(May 7, 2004) Some 50 anti-nuclear organizations and movements from over 20 European countries launched, on Chernobyl Memorial Day, a yearlong European campaign to collect 1 million signatures against nuclear power.
(609.5601) WISE Amsterdam - On the 18th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster to date, campaigners from nine of the European petition campaign's initiating organizations joined Finnish anti-nuclear activists for the launch in Helsinki.
The aim of the petition is to demand the exit of nuclear power in all Europe and activate mass engagement on the issue. Once completed, the petition will be used to convince European countries to take the following measures:
- stop and/or prevent the construction of new nuclear power plans and facilities in the European Union
- launch a plan to abandon nuclear with the EU
- invest massively in energy efficiency and the development of renewable energies
repeal the Euratom Treaty which massively supports nuclear power in Europe
Finland still has a choice
A delegation of experts, activists and politicians from nine of the European petition campaign's initiating organizations, including WISE Amsterdam, visited Finnish ministries on 26 April to express strong condemnation for the "decision-in-principle" to grant a permit for the construction of the experimental EPR prototype that would become Finland's fifth nuclear reactor. (See WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 596-598 "European Nuclear Threats: Old and New")
As the ministers were unavailable, the groups were received at the Prime Minister's office by under-secretary of state, Mr. Risto Volanen, at the Ministry of Trade and Industry by the chief of the energy department, Mr. Taisto Turunen, Mr. Markku Nurmi at the Ministry of Environment and at the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry, Ms. Satu Mäki, special assistant to the minister.
Each meeting began with a request from the delegation for a minute of silence to remember those killed and injured by Chernobyl.
The organizations had sent complaints to the Ministry of Trade and Industry urging it to reject the permit application and each ministry visited was presented with a set of supporting documents from the organizations. Ministry officials were of course invited to sign the petition against more nuclear power in Europe but all refused.
The delegation were fiercely critical of the government's apparent view that the regressive 2002 parliamentary ruling had to be rubber stamped no matter what and made the point that the permit application could still be rejected on safety grounds, making several arguments in support. Xanthe Hall from the German section of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) drew attention to a report published in December on the EPR's safety deficiencies but was told that the information it contained was unfamiliar despite the fact that it had been sent to the Ministry for Trade & Industry upon publication. The preliminary assessment was also included in the documents presented to the ministries. (1)
The group strongly urged officials to actively support more investment in renewable energy resources, take steps to reduce energy consumption and promote energy efficiency to meet Finland's energy demands.
Although some 11 of the 18 current ministers had voted in 2002, before they came into government, to reject the calls for a fifth reactor, ministry officials visited gave the impression of resignation to the construction of an EPR prototype in Finland. The group was dismayed to hear officials speaking of a democratically taken decision that had to be "respected and implemented". Again, the point was made that the vote in parliament had been on whether to prevent the nuclear industry building a new nuclear power plant or not and did not mean that the permit application had to be approved - the government still has a choice and should exercise its power to reject the scheme.
The usual invalid arguments for the EPR scheme, from suggesting that nuclear power would help Finland reach its Kyoto targets to claiming that Finland had no viable alternatives, were made by officials. Mr. Volanen was admonished for the first [Kyoto] claim, which was later retracted in a backhand manner, and the latter could be perceived as especially ridiculous given that Finland's rich resources (biomass, wind and water) are well documented and proven - even the country's environment ministry had published a report in 2003. (2)
When questioned on the escalating costs of the EPR scheme, Mr. Volanen explained that this was not of concern to the government as the financial resources at risk belonged to private companies. He went on to say that it was the companies that would become bankrupt should costs continue to rise not the public purse. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Finnish people who will undoubtedly be forced to fund this scheme through increased energy bills.
At the Ministry for Foreign Trade and Industry, Satu Mäki was keen to inform us of Finland's concern with safety standards at Russian nuclear power plants and that it was engaged in a program to raise standards. Under-secretary of state Volanen had also expressed concern with NPP safety in Russia, claiming that that was one reason why Finland did not want to import nuclear electricity from Russia but would instead look to building a fifth reactor. Both Volanen and Mäki were at a loss when questioned about the safety of the EPR prototype and Mäki in particular appeared surprised to learn from Jean-Yvon Landrac of Réseau "Sortir du nucléaire" that the people of Le Carnet in France had already rejected an earlier attempt at constructing the untested EPR prototype. (See WISE/NIR Nuclear Monitor 478.4744 "France: the end of the Carnet project, finally" and also 474.4697, 471.4666 & 467.4642)
On the question of why the Finnish people had not been offered a referendum on the new nuclear power plant despite opinion polls at the time showing that the majority favored this, Ms. Maki said that there was no strong tradition for referenda in Finland and also made the "democratic decision" argument. She said that the public were aware of politician's stance on nuclear and had the opportunity to vote in the general election - the fact that many of those elected had stood as anti-nuclear before and changed only after the election was not commented on. She did however admit that there had been split on the nuclear issue along regional lines and between the generations in the Center Party, which she belongs to, but again seemed resigned to the dim view that the 2002 decision had to be "respected".
The group visiting the environment ministry was told that the problem of how to deal with nuclear wastes was now perceived as "solved". Finland will not export wastes but will instead store wastes on-site but given that Finland has no dry mountains, concern existed that wastes could leak into ground water. Mr. Nurmi admitted that Finland does possess sufficient resources for renewable energy but that there was strong opposition from the wood industry which was unwilling to use wood for energy purposes when more profit could be gained from other wood-related industries. He expressed sorrow that Finland, as the country in Europe with most resources for renewable energy, should choose to build the EPR instead of investing in new technologies for sustainable energy.
Public engagement required
During the course of the day [26 April], we participated in a street action, urging the public to sign the petition - collecting over a thousand signature within hours - and explaining the reasons for our opposition to the permit application for the EPR and all nuclear worldwide. People appeared surprised to learn that their government would consider making the country the guinea pig for the Franco-German EPR scheme which neither of the developing countries is willing to test within its own borders. Until recently Finland was the only country willing to take the enormous risk of building the EPR but now France is also joining them.
The media in Finland are apparently uninterested in the dangers of a fifth reactor to the extent that negative opinions or reports are rarely covered and those speaking out against the scheme are usually portrayed as lunatics.
That new nuclear power plants are not in the public interest or in line with any rational or progressive political energy plans is not a popular viewpoint in Finland or any country where the nuclear lobby is strong. The international anti-nuclear movement needs to mobilize on a large scale to try to prevent the industry and ill-advised politicians from instituting a relapse of such dangerous technology.
In support of Russian anti-nuclear organizations, much of the delegation had also attended a "non action" in St. Petersburg on 24 April after a request to demonstrate outside the Sosnovy Bor reactor, the world's oldest Chernobyl type reactor currently, had been rejected as part of Russia's new anti protest laws. The group instead made a symbolic protest at the Nevsky Project in St. Petersburg and was well received by the Russian people, some of who joined the protest. Earlier, the delegation had met with the mayor of St. Petersburg who was presented with a gift of bread and fruit - a Russian symbolic act.
The visit was to promote the signature campaign and also to express serious concern about the Russian government's plans to:
- prolong the operation license permit at Sosnovy Bor
- allow the temporary nuclear waste storage at the Leningrad NPP to continue - situated just 90 meters from the Baltic Sea coast and containing radioactivity corresponding to near 50 Chernobyl accidents
let harbors in Ust-Luga and Vysotsk be used for transports of radioactive material
(1) Safety deficits of the European Pressurized water Reactor, by Henrik Paultiz; German section of IPPNW, 9 December 2003
(2) Finland's Natural Resources and the Environment 2003
(3) Joint press releases (Réseau "Sortir du nucléaire", IPPNW Germany, Atomstopp International, WISE Amsterdam, Aktionsbündnis CASTOR-Widerstand, Green Party of Sweden, Liberale Demokraten party Germany, Peoples Campaign against Nuclear Power/Weapons Sweden, Women for Peace Finland, No more nuclear power movement Finland & Women against nuclear power Finland) 25 & 26 April 2004
(4) Statements of opposition to EPR from WISE Amsterdam 26 April 2004, Aktionsbündnis CASTOR-Widerstand Neckarwestheim 17 April 2004, & Ecologistas en Accións Spain 21 April 2004.
Contact: WISE Amsterdam