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Nuclear industry sees fertile ground in green Europe

(Page 2 of 2)

The absence of any recommendations involving nuclear power, which now generates 30 percent of the electricity in the EU as a whole, has pleased longtime opponents.

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"Of all different energy options, nuclear was the loser," says Mark Johnston, a lobbyist for the international environmental group Greenpeace.

"It's not popular, for one. And there are still widespread doubts across Europe, partly for economic and cost reasons and because of the waste issue," he says.

While EU surveys have found some shift in public attitudes toward nuclear power, opinion remains generally negative. A survey of 1,000 people in each of the 27 EU member countries recently found only 37 percent of those interviewed favored nuclear power, while 55 percent said its risks outweighed the advantages.

While those questioned were less concerned than in the past about the safety of reactors, but were still worried about what to do with stockpiles of nuclear waste, says Ms. Blohm-Hieber.

In France, for example, 80 percent of electricity is generated by nuclear power. A new-generation nuclear reactor has been approved and is set for construction on the Normandy coast, one of only two new reactors being built in Europe.

The state-owned electrical utility, EDF, remains committed to developing new nuclear plants and has been seeking to export its technology to Britain and Asia. And the French nuclear generator manufacturer Areva is aggressively looking for new customers outside France and is in negotiations to sell reactors to China.

But the French appear less enamored of nuclear power than their energy industry or government. The EU survey on nuclear power found that 52 percent of people in France believed the risks of nuclear energy outweighed its benefits because of the unresolved issue of how to dispose of nuclear waste.

The survey also found that 56 percent of the French believed nuclear power could easily be replaced by renewable energy sources like wind power. Other polls have found that climate change and global warming are major preoccupations for a large majority of people in France. The combination of all those interests creates a headache for politicians, as the French Socialist candidate for president, Ségolène Royal, found recently.

Last month Ms. Royal, responding to environmentalists' concerns about radioactive waste, called for a moratorium on new nuclear plants, including the one scheduled for construction in France. But within days, she had to pull back from that position after French energy companies complained that it could hurt their efforts to export nuclear reactor technology.

A similar discussion is brewing in Germany, where the main political parties agreed in 2000 to shut down all the country's 17 nuclear plants by 2020.

Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed the deal when she formed her coalition government two years ago. But she also warned that what she called "an ideologically motivated nuclear phaseout" might make German energy companies less competitive in the market for selling nuclear know-how.