The role of Nuclear energy in combating climate change (Foratom Seminar, Tampere)


Hyvät naiset ja herrat, tervetuloa Suomeen, toivon, että istutte mukavasti.

First of all it is such a pleasure to be addressing experts in the subject of energy and climate change. This rarely happens to me in the European Parliament Committees these days.

Now, that may sound a little unkind but many of my frustrations in political debate on energy and climate, at this most crucial of times, stem from either a lack of understanding by elected politicians or simply a lack of time for them to reach a sufficient understanding to vote in the right way –- that’s my way of course.

It may sound unkind to say this but it’s sadly true – but some of the solution is in your hands. Yes, you: the representatives of the nuclear industry. The same industry that rejected the late and former Commissioner De Palacio’s call for:

• common safety standards,
• certainty of funding for decommissioning nuclear plants and
• some kind of definition regarding final disposal of nuclear waste.

Don’t answer me now, but why did you reject the draft directives to address the 3 main concerns of the public regarding your industry. I am more than just interested, I am annoyed! Not because I have any special interest in your industry – but I do have an overriding interest in the means to combat climate change. Nuclear Power has an essential role in this respect. Nuclear technology is mature, safe, clean, economic and proven over half a century. Moreover, it can be considered as non-dependent and without harmful emissions. As my colleague Lasse Lehtinen says: Nuclear is not only carbon free, it’s Russia free too! If he hasn’t said that to you yet, when he does, please laugh as there is little comfort in being a Socialist these days -– even a good one like Lasse. I know we have some excellent Russian colleagues in our audience but I suggest the European Union’s increasing gas dependency is not good in the long term for Russia either.

Looking around the room, I can see representatives of the nuclear generation industry, the construction industry and I think even I saw a nuclear regulator or two. Well yes, you are enjoying a re-birth of your industry and I am delighted about that. Some of you have full order books; others have new construction applications going through the various processes. It must be exciting, even comforting after a whole generation of no new build at all. But what do you not have? Total political and public confidence.

That is why I am annoyed as well as excited.

Tell me,

•  What is so difficult about defining the final resting place for nuclear waste? We’ve done it here in Finland.
• What is so difficult about establishing common safety standards? The generating companies define common standards every time they invite a tender for a new plant and the constructors get in line to have the chance of an order.
• And a means of funding the decommissioning? If you have it – why not show it? – – as Mae West might have said.

Here in Finland, there was a 10 year gap between public and political rejection of the 5th reactor project and its eventual acceptance. Why was that? I think it had a lot to do with my theme today. In the early 90’s the majority of men accepted the proposal whilst the majority of women did not. A similar division existed between the older and younger generations. In the intervening 10 years, there was a well planned and easily understood information campaign targeted at the doubting population groups. My friend and colleague Piia-Noora Kauppi had much to do with changing the opinion of the younger generation.

I hope we will be able to develop these points in the discussion to follow.


Now, what about this 20% of everything by 2020? Where did this all come from? Certainly not from the science. To me it is a frivolous aspect of a serious subject. I heard it was perhaps a dream of Commissioner Piebalgs – presumably when he went to bed at 20 past 20 one day.

Renewables certainly have their part to play, but to imagine a 20% contribution by 2020 is not realistic in my view. We don´t have the necessary technological alternatives available yet. There is a risk that it will lead to unsustainable forestry and the binding target will be reached by overloggings –- which will not be good for the air quality either. We should not let that happen. The notion is also distracting the serious possibilities including development of nuclear energy in the Member States who have never accepted it – – Austria, Denmark, Ireland, for example – or that changed their minds some years ago –- Sweden, Italy, Germany and Belgium all look set to reverse their moratoria on nuclear power in the next few years. Things may take a little longer in Austria, Ireland and Denmark – but pretty soon, I am sure they will see their energy costs rise if they continue to put faith in renewables alone. In fact relying on renewables to cut emissions is like getting a haircut to lose weight –- in theory it contributes, in practice it’s cosmetic at best. I understand that all the windmills in Germany produced less energy last year than Olkiluoto 3 will produce in its first year –- whenever that turns out to be.

I’m not against wind energy nor solar and the other so-called renewables but we do need a context here. Plus the claims of this or that lobby need to be explained in a way that stimulates the interest and the understanding of the public whilst remaining factual. You may have realised that solar energy will not be a big thing here in Finland. But even in Italy, one of the sunniest climates amongst our Member States, according to Dr Abel Gonzales – Director at the IAEA – If you were to remove from Italy all the Italians, their restaurants, opera singers and paintings and cover the whole land area with photovoltaic cells, the resultant energy production would be less than Italy uses today. The better and more efficient innovations in solar energy are still to be expected.

But who, amongst the Italian public understands that simple analogy –- nobody because the language used to explain the potential of this or that technology is always boringly technical and often deliberately misleading. Your industry is the most guilty in this respect. I’ll give you some examples. When a reactor shuts itself down, you call it a “scram” or “trip”. Why? It’s a safe shutdown isn’t it? The same with “decommissioning” – isn’t that simply the final closure like every other industrial unit eventually has?

“Commissioning” or “going critical”. They’re even worse – I think you mean starting up don’t you?

It’s small wonder that large sections of the public feel isolated and deprived of understandable arguments. Even scared by words like scram which means “run away” according to my Oxford dictionary! Even the word “trip” suggests getting out of here.

Politicians like me have a great affinity for the feelings of the public – especially in an election year.

Let me close my part of this workshop with a few words about the European Union and the Parliament in particular. Regarding energy and environment issues, we are currently in the busiest time I can remember in almost 10 years of my being an MEP. This is set to continue and increase in the next mandate. You and your companies will need a very active and aware representation in Brussels if you are to benefit from what is going on – or at least to avoid potential damage from ill-defined Directives, Regulations and Policies. I contend that the Parliament readings under the co-decision process present your best opportunity. But where are you? I never hear TVO nor Fennovoima knocking on my door. I even think you should be there now to back up your biggest customers who support my approach to the Emission Trading Directive -– but you are not.

Now back to my beginning in the Finnish language. I guess only a minority of you understood what I said:

Hyvät naiset ja herrat, tervetuloa Suomeen, toivon, että istutte mukavasti.

If you did not understand, then it’s because I chose the wrong language – and that is my point.

It means: Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Finland, I hope you are sitting comfortably.

Well I now hope you are a little less comfortable and will come back at me with comments, questions and arguments.

Thank you.

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