sociologist, freelance reseracher and columnist
chairman of the former Lovisa-movement (1997-2000), the citizen movement against nuclear waste disposal in Lovisa.
Drottninggatan 28, FIN-07900 Lovisa
+358 (0)19 532 460; +358
(0)50 528 7171; thomas.rosenberg at dnainternet.net
notes on power, politics and psychology
A man drilling his own head, saying:
is in our own hands, nuclear power is absolutely safe!”
This is Finland in a nutshell.
And also the answer to the question asked by so many during the last
years: Why Finland? How is it possible that this small and prosperous
nation in the North has gone nuts when it comes to nuclear power, and
now goes in the opposite direction, compared with most of the Western
world? The nuclear plans as they are ambitious, i.e. Finland aims to
become a leading nation concerning know how and expertise in many parts
of the nuclear fuel cycle, from mining to final deposit of radioactive
The political och psycological
ice breaker was definitely the decision in principle made in the parliament
in 2001, concerning the final deposit of radwaste, the first decision
of its kind in the world, and adopted with almost overwhelming numbers:
159 for and only 3 against. After that the road was free for the nuclear
entrepreneurs: a fifth reactor, now under construction by TVO in Olkiluoto,
bigger than ever before; plans for uranium mining on many different
locations in Finland; a new third reactor by Fortum in Lovisa; the attempt
by the German giant EON to take the people in Lovisa by surprise, by
planning a new reactor next to the former ones; and finally the attempts
to do it again, but now in a Trojan horse called Fennovoima, and located
either in the neighboring municipality or somewhere on the west coast.
An astonishing development,
indeed, compared with the political climate in the rest of Europe. And
talking about the climate; this is not due to the present climate discussion,
as this development has been clearly visible for years.
So, what are the reasons for this Finnish exception? Why does Finland differ in such a remarkable way? The reasons for this are of course complex, but let me summarize them in some short notes, concerning
1) the political trust
2) the environmental legislation
3) the technological hybris
4) the psycological and
(1) The political trust
In Finland, the primary
rock is unusually stable, something which is a perfect brand when selling
final solutions for the spent fuel. But that goes for the political
system, too. Finns do not riot, or even put the legislation seriously
in question – and if so, the critiqs are very soon incorporated in
the state apparatus. This was the case with the labour movement in the
first part of the 20th century, and with the green movement
in the latter part of the century. In most European countries there
still is a strong and sovereign environmental movement – but not in
Finland, as many of the activists, especially those with academic education,
sooner or later are absorbed into the environmental administration,
both in the public and the private sector.
Another aspect of the political
trust is the strong municipal autonomy, reflecting the strong local
and regional independency typical for the Nordic countries. Or to put
it in Asterix’ terms: Finland is, and has always been, full of small
Gallian villages! (That is, up til now, as the market economy and its
centralizing logic now finally is destroying all the small communes
in the country, but that is another story.). One aspect of this, of
importance when dealing with nuclear matters, is the municipal veto
so central for the Finnish democracy. Something which paradoxically
can be in the interest of the nuclear industry.
The formally strong position
of the municipalities means that the companies, be they mining industries,
reactor builders or deposit planners, are forced to start at to local
level. This may sound democratic but actually means a technique of ruling
well known from the Roman empire, i.e. divide et impera. The first and
decisive battle is fought between a giant company on one hand and small
and helpless local groups on the other, usually with no connections
to the national level, not to speak of the international. When the project
at last reaches the national level of decision, i.e. the government
and the parliament, the energy on the local level is totally gone, and
the former resistance and critique therefore totally nonexistent, e.g.
in the national news media.
(2) The environmental legislation
One of the main arguments
in favor for nuclear expansion in Finland is that our environmental
legislation and administration is so well developed. Therefore nothing
that can put neither people nor nature at risk can be established –
or at least so it is assumed. The main cornerstone is the law about
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), from 1994. Since that the major
legitimating instrument for all major and troublesome projects in the
republic, and more so, the more risky and controversial the project
in question is.
Not surprisingly, the EIA-process
involved in the nuclear projects have become the perhaps most effective
argument in trying to gain the confidence and trust needed. Worried?
No, problem, as we can offer you participation in the hearing process!
This goes both for new reactors and for the final deposit of radwaste,
the latter resulting in the biggest EIA so far in Finland, between 1997
and 2000). I had myself the opportunity to follow this process very
closely, and have written several analyses of it, from the activist’s
point of view (one of them available here as a copy).
Most of the research made
on the impact of EIA points in the same direction: the assessment programs
can never basicly change any major project, not to talk about stopping
them, and less so the bigger the project and therefore the vested interests
involved. This goes, of course, even more so for EIA:s connected with
nuclear power. Our experience with the radwaste-EIA can be summarized
in one word: theatre. A script made in advance, in which Goliat was
doomed to defeat David.
(3) The technological hybris
Finns trust, in general,
in the state. Even greater is, however, their trust in science, technology
and expertise, especially if this is Finnish. Perhaps due to the relatively
short period of higher education, and the small population, Finns are
very proud of their scientific and technological successes, and something
like a technological or cultural critique is almost totally absent.
One reason for the absence
of critique is directly connected with the smallness of the circles
involved. Take nuclear fysics or geology as an example (two fields directly
involved here); when everybody knows each other, and are connected with
several mutual bonds, no critique or illojality is hardly ever rising.
With success stories like
Nokia and Pisa (according to which the Finnish schools are the best
in Europe) this feeling of national pride, combined with mutual dependencies
(or corruption, if you will) has turned into hybris. We can solve every
problem, and also have the guts to do it! The latter turning us to the
(4) The psychological and
The Finnish exception,
or wonder, when it comes to nuclear power, is, I think, fully understandable
only when related also to the “winter war-mentality” and stubbornness
characterizing the Finns, with their hard experiences from the last
century. “The only country that payed its war debts” – a fact
often admired by others, but also deeply influencing the Finns themselves.
Others may flee from the front (especially the cowardly Swedes, our
favourite object of friendly hatred), but we will always stick to our
Or, to put it in terms
of nuclear politics: others may flee their responsibility for the spent
nuclear fuel, for also mining uranium when using nuclear energy, or
something else of this kind – but we will not desert!
So, to summarize: Finland differs in nuclear politics because of a peculiar mix of factors that in itself may sound democratic and positive (such as municipal autonomy and advanced environmental legislation), but combined with the other components at stake result in a nuclear naivety hard to believe!
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