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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finns Vote for Nuclear Reactor

HELSINKI, Finland -- Finland decided Friday to build the first new nuclear reactor in Western Europe in more than a decade to meet rising energy demands despite bitter opposition from environmentalists.

Parliament backed by 107 votes to 92 the government's controversial proposal to construct a fifth atomic reactor to guarantee long-term energy supplies, cut its dependence on Russia and meet greenhouse gas targets.

It will be the first such plant since 1991, when France authorized the construction of a new reactor.

The Green Party said it may quit the ruling coalition following the vote, but Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen does not need its support to survive.

"This will enable us best to fulfill our climate policy objectives and secure the domestic energy supply and avoid excessive dependence on imports," Lipponen said.

The pro-nuclear lobby said it would spur other west European countries, like Britain, which are lagging behind eastern Europe and Asia in expanding nuclear power.

The vote comes almost 30 years after the last reactor was ordered in Finland, which has no oil or natural gas of its own.

The anti-nuclear lobby said construction of the plant ignored health and security risks, which were even more relevant following the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"This is a decision not only against the environment but a decision against Finland," said Tobias Muenchmeyer, nuclear expert at Greenpeace International. "It is unsafe."

The European Union repeated the decision on nuclear energy was up to each member country.

"The range of choices in member states must be as wide as possible and I believe that the nuclear option must remain open," EU Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said.

But European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom also said it was not necessary for EU member states to increase use of nuclear power to meet their goals under the Kyoto treaty against global warming.

"I have a personal view on nuclear [power] but this is their choice," Wallstrom, who has in the past made clear her dislike for nuclear power, said during an EU environment ministers' meeting in Spain.

The Finnish government says it needs the reactor to ensure economic growth continues, meet Kyoto targets and cut its dependence on Russia, the country that provides most of its imported energy.

Two-thirds is imported and was worth more than 4.5 billion euros ($4.14 billion) in 2000. Sweden and Norway are less reliant on imports.

Under the 1997 Kyoto pact, rich nations aim to cut gas emissions blamed for global warming, including carbon dioxide.

Parliament's decision passed largely unnoticed in Helsinki, with only around 100 demonstrators outside parliament compared to more than 5,000 during an anti-nuclear protest last month.

Environment Minister Satu Hassi, a Green, has hit out against the government for raising the Cold War specter of the nation's need to lessen dependence on Russia.

Nuclear power producer Teollisuuden Voima is expected to spend up to 2.5 billion euros to build the reactor, which is expected to be operational before the end of the decade.