Finland to include nuclear issue in election campaigns

AFP , Thursday 17 Mar 2011

Crisis in Japan triggers alarm bells concerning nuclear energy in Finland as elections approach

People hold a banner, which reads: "Finland - Japan of the North", during a demonstration against nuclear power in Helsinki Tuesday, (Reuters).

Finland's Green League, which is part of the ruling coalition, said Tuesday explosions in earthquake-damaged nuclear reactors in Japan would make nuclear energy a major issue ahead of Finland's Aril 17 elections.

"This will definitely become an election issue, because we can't close our eyes to what's happening in the world or avoid our moral responsibility," Ville Niinistoe, head of the Greens' parliamentary group, told AFP.

He said he believed that the news of a third explosion in a reactor at the Fukushima plant will force Finns to reconsider their perception of nuclear power as a safe energy source.

"Every time a nuclear accident happens, we're told it's an exception and could never happen in Finland, but we can see that these accidents have happened in different countries and in different situations," Niinistoe said.

Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen, whose National Coalition Party is leading the race according to recent polls, meanwhile insisted it was too early to write off nuclear power as unsafe.

In an interview with public broadcaster YLY on Sunday, Katainen said Finns should hold off on drawing conclusions about Finland's own nuclear policy "before we really know exactly what has happened and what has not."

Four nuclear reactors are in use in Finland, while power company TVO is building a fifth and the current right-left governing coalition and parliament last year gave the green light for two new nuclear reactors.

Political analyst Jan Sundberg of the University of Helsinki said that plan would surely be revisited during the campaign.

"Naturally it's harder for them (the government) to defend this decision, because (the situation in Japan) shows us that the danger exists," Sundberg told AFP.

The issue may become more difficult for the Green League to navigate, because although they voted against the new reactors, they chose not to leave the four-party governing coalition when the decision was made.

Green members hold the posts of labour minister and justice minister.

Niinistoe meanwhile insisted his party had never stifled its views.

"The Greens will continue to consistently say what we believe: that we have to get rid of nuclear energy," he said.

Sundberg said the question of nuclear power had already become a campaign issue due to events in Japan, although it will likely still be overshadowed by questions of taxation and budget-balancing

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