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Finland: back to basics - Fukushima reminds of nuclear risks

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Finnish Association for Nature Conservation

Finland has always been a country where people rely on engineership. Despite the techno-optimistic views the Finnish parliament was still far-sighted enough to turn down an industry application for a fifth nuclear power reactor in 1992.

Even if mushrooms and reindeer meat still contained traces of extra radioactivity, the memory of the Chernobyl disaster faded in the '90s when climate discussion drew attention.

Throughout the '90s, the Finnish industry was in a good position to make breakthroughs in the development of new wind and solar technologies. This was not utilized, however, because the industry was already preparing ground for a new nuclear reactor application.

In the turn of the century, the nuclear industry saw its chance. It came out with a message that we cannot fight climate change without a full array of non-carbon energy sources, i.e., renewables and, of course, nuclear power. The industry's sudden worry showed clear signs of greenwashing. After all, until then the industry had been telling us that if they are forced to fight the climate change then they loose their competitiveness.

Despite the suspiciousness of this sudden climate worry, the industry message bore fruit. This was partly because of a wrong campaign analysis by the anti-nuclear movement. The environmentalists thought they can be stronger at the renewables debate than the heavy industry, and went along with this debate. They abandoned the traditional nuclear risk debate.

It became apparent that the anti-nuclear movement had the wrong strategy. The Finnish parliament believed the industry, and the application for the fifth reactor was passed in the parliament in May 2002.

There were several reasons why the anti-nuclear movement did not use the risks of nuclear power as the key campaign message. Most importantly, the memory of Chernobyl had faded. The media was not at all interested in the debate about the risks of nuclear power, and neither were some of the younger generation activists who had a climate activist background.

The Fukushima accident changed the nuclear debate entirely. Again, it is politically credible to stress the risks of nuclear power. The major Finnish media have written more about the nuclear risks than they have done in the whole millennium so far.

The nuclear industry keeps fairly quiet. Currently, they cannot ignore people who discuss the numerous risks of the life cycle of nuclear power.

The energy industry's response has been to wait and see, and to talk positively about the need to test the safety technology in the existing reactors. Most probably, however, the industry is already making plans on how to "normalize" the situation.

Source and contact: Jouni Nissinen, Head of Environmental Protection, Finnish Association for Nature Conservation