Central Europe fuels demands for European nuclear revival
Prague (AFP) May 27, 2008
Central European countries are fuelling a nuclear power revival as they face soaring energy prices, closure of old Soviet reactors, fears over meeting EU climate change targets and dependency on Russian gas.
Czech, Slovak and Lithuanian premiers hammered home the call for nuclear power to be at the centre of European Union energy policy at a recent two-day nuclear forum as their booming economies confront a looming power crisis.
"We face an increasing energy dependency especially in terms of gas and especially vis-a-vis our Eastern neighbours," warned Czech deputy prime minister and former communist era regime dissident Alexandr Vondra in closing remarks at Prague's European Nuclear Energy Forum.
The Czech Republic depends on Russia for around 75 percent of its gas, with Norwegian imports making up the rest, according to ministry of industry figures.
But its overall energy situation, with an electricity surplus expected to last until 2015, looks rosy compared with Slovakia, Lithuania and Hungary.
Central European states present an impressive nuclear family. The Baltic states, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland and Romania are building new nuclear power plants, have plans to do so or are mulling the step. Paradoxically, the Czech Republic's atom-enthusiastic prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, is prevented from adding new nuclear capacity at home due to a ban imposed by his Green Party government coalition partners.
"This is not an issue for one government term but for the next 50 years," forum host Topolanek reacted when confronted by the fact.
Prague and Bratislava were jointly responsible for pushing the European Commission into launching the nuclear forum to foster discussion about the former pariah power source last year with most countries in the pro-nuclear camp.
"Globally, there is a strong political engagement (for nuclear) in East European countries. That is quite clear," commented Christian Taillebois, director of external relations for Foratom, the Brussels-based lobby for Europe's nuclear industry.
"They want a diversity of (energy) supplies and not to be dependent on their big neighbour," he added in reference to Russia.
Russia was clearly one bogeyman for Lithuania's premier as he pleaded in Prague for European solidarity as his country faces an economic reversal caused by an EU demand that it close its remaining Ignalina Soviet era nuclear plant.
Gediminas Kirkilas appealed to Brussels to reconsider its demand the plant close in 2009, which he said would create a serious two-year energy shortfall before new electricity interconnection links with Poland and Sweden can be completed and a new nuclear power plant built in cooperation with Estonia, Latvia and Poland.
"We have a two-year gap where we face a doubling of electricity prices, doubling of carbon emissions and, according to our feasibility studies, a 4.0 percent fall in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) with the social consequences that will result," he warned.
"If we cannot extend production from this nuclear plant we will have no choice but to replace it with gas," Kirkilas added.
Slovakia's prime minister, Robert Fico, is also challenging an EU demand that the country shut down one reactor in Jaslovske Bohunice at the end of this year, which he slammed as "absurd."
Fico is also pushing dominant electricity producer Slovenske Elektrarne (SE), 66 percent owned by Italian power giant ENEL, to complete two nuclear reactors. SE is meanwhile positioning itself as a key source of nuclear know-how as the parent company seeks to launch new projects at home and abroad.
Fico's government is also set to decide by the end of the year if the state should built its own new nuclear plant or bring in private partners. Slovakia faces importing 20 percent of its electricity needs next year and wrestles with high electricity prices after years of cheap, regulated power.
According to Foratom's Taillebois the arrival of the new EU states has helped pitch the argument in nuclear's favour at EU institutions, such as the European Parliament, with the public in many of the countries also strongly backing nuclear.
But Taillebois stressed that there is no clear East-West European divide now on nuclear power, with France traditionally one of its main partisans, Britain announcing plans to build a new generation of plants and Italy declaring last week it wants to drop its 20-year-old nuclear ban.
"Austria is the real hard core of opposition," he added.
Foratom left Prague satisfied that power company demands for time and money-saving harmonised European rules for nuclear power to replace a patchwork of national laws were enshrined in the meeting's conclusions.
"For a long time nuclear was a dirty word, now we are talking about it again," Taillebois rejoiced.
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Dubai (AFP) May 27, 2008
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