Nuclear power project debates expose political divide in Finland

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The Finnish Parliament and government in session. (Yle)
The Finnish Parliament and government in session. (Yle)
The Social Democratic Party’s parliamentary group proposed on Tuesday that supplementary applications from both the Fennovoima and TVO nuclear projects should be considered by the Finnish Parliament.

The announcement is in direct opposition to Monday’s recommendation from the Economic Minister to green-light only the Fennovoima project for parliamentary deliberation.

The ongoing saga regarding the future of Finland’s nuclear power is exposing a clear divide in Finnish politics, as the five parties of the coalition government scramble to secure their position on two pending nuclear plant investments.

Both projects were already approved by the government and parliament in an earlier round, but significant changes in their makeup have made it necessary for both to re-apply for supplementary permission to continue.

The Social Democrats (SDP) want both projects to be considered by the Parliament, while the leading National Coalition Party (NCP), led by Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, supports the Monday decision of the Economic Affairs Minister and fellow NCP member Jan Vapaavuori to recommend consideration of only the changes submitted to the Fennovoima-backed project. Even this recommendation was subject to a caveat, however.

Disagreement within the SDP

In an interesting twist, as of Tuesday, at least three different stands on the issue were apparent within the Social Democratic Party itself.

Party Chair Antti Rinne is pushing for both nuclear projects to be considered, while his party comrade from Pori Krista Kiuru has previously voted for implementation of the TVO project and against the Fennovoima investment. Other SDP MPs Erkki Tuomioja, Susanna Huovinen and Pia Viitanen have come out in opposition to both nuclear plant investments.

The SDP’s parliamentary group released a statement today demanding that both projects be put to the floor of the Finnish Parliament for consideration. The group’s chair Jouni Backman says the group hoped both permit applications could be heard in Parliament because the previous legislature decided on the projects the first time around.

“If changes are made, then it is best in terms of the legal security and reliability of the companies involved over the long term that Parliament is responsible for making these changes,” says Backman.

Minister of Economic Affairs Vapaavuori will present the Fennovoima supplement for approval to the Parliament on Thursday with one precondition for issuing the construction license: at least 60 per cent of the shares must be in Finnish ownership. He rejected the second supplementary application for a deadline extension by Teollisuuden Voima (TVO) on Monday.

Prime Minister tries to hold it together

Prime Minister Stubb says that Vapaavuori enjoys the support of at least six other ministers in the current government.

“It goes without saying that I support the conclusions of the Minister for Economic Affairs and Minister of Employment and the Economy. We will revisit the issue on Thursday,” he says.

Does this mean Finland’s premier will ignore the wishes of his leading coalition partners on this issue?

“Once again, there is no need to over-dramatize the situation,” he replies. “I am of the opinion that nuclear energy is not an issue that should be manipulated in any way. A decision on nuclear investment is a monumental one that should be informed by energy policy and economic policy.”

Stubb won’t entertain the notion that the SDP is engaging in political games with the nuclear permits and dismisses any talk of government breakup as “nonsense”.

SDP Chair Rinne for his part announced that he has no intention for the time being of further stirring up internal squabbles within the government on the issue of nuclear power.

Greens already have one foot out the door

Meanwhile, Green League chair and Environment Minister Ville Niinistö made headlines on Monday when he said his party will go into opposition if the Stubb government approves the Russian-built Fennovoima plant. He cited that one of his party’s three stipulations for joining the coalition government had been that no new nuclear power permits would be granted during its four-year legislative term.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Oil and gas consultations in Canada’s eastern Arctic next week, CBC News

Finland:  Finland’s economic minister says Fennovoima reactor can go ahead, Greens may quit cabinet, Yle News

Greenland: Statoil awarded exploration licence off Greenland, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Oil, Industry and Arctic Sustainability, Deutsche Welle’s Ice-Blog

Russia:  Russia sees Wrangel Island oil and gas potential; Greenpeace eyes an eastern Arctic front, Alaska Dispatch

United States:  Gasline partners take steps toward permitting, marketing of project in Alaska, Alaska Public Radio Network

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