Finland's parliament voted yesterday to build two additional nuclear reactors, on top of the four already running and two under construction. When all are running, they will be producing around half the country's electricity, and with luck, Finland will be the first country in the world to be operating a repository for quasi-permanent storage of radioactive wastes. Its decision to build additional nuclear power plants is all the more significant because it shows that there's a strong long-term case to be made for nuclear, even when current projects are not going well, and because Finland is one of those Nordic countries known for technological excellence and visionary perspectives.
Another such country, Sweden, announced two weeks ago it would build new reactors to replace those now running when they are decommissioned. It was a major development when Sweden decided last year to revoke its planned nuclear phase-out; this too is a major development, and for the same reason. Finland's decision shows that there's still a long-term case to be made for nuclear, even though costs are proving to be disappointingly high. "Historically the [nuclear] industry has not been able to reduce costs with increased experience," the director general of Sweden's nuclear agency told The New York Times. Despite that, Sweden and Finland have concluded that greenhouse gases can only be cut and energy security guaranteed with continued or greater reliance on atomic power.
The decisions by Sweden and Finland will surely have an impact in Germany, whose leader, physicist Angela Merkel, would dearly like to negotiate an "exit from the nuclear exit" that the country adopted when influence of the Green Party was at its peak. But that debate also will be influenced by a countervailing trend, prompted by the Gulf disaster and memories of Chernobyl and Bhopal--"worse than worst-case" disasters that somehow keep happening.