European leaders call for nuclear power revivalEuropean leaders call for nuclear power revival

PRAGUE (AFP) - European nuclear leaders launched a call here Thursday for measures to ensure the revival of atomic energy in the face of soaring oil prices and concerns over global warming. At a two-day European Commission-sponsored forum in Prague, officials and government leaders said real steps had to be taken to put nuclear power back into the energy mix. "We are more and more dependent on oil and gas imported from unstable parts of the world at high price," warned the host of the second European Nuclear Energy Forum, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. "We have come to a time today where we must do more than talk about nuclear energy," he said, warning: "It is really five minutes to midnight." One of the main demands of nuclear power's backers is that it be given recognition as "a low carbon or non-emissions sector," similar to renewable sources of power, Topolanek told AFP in the margins of the forum. "The share of nuclear power is continuing to fall as more plants are being closed down than being built," said Topolanek who is one of the main proponents of a nuclear revival in contrast with his government coalition partner, the Green Party. "The trend is in the direction of more and not less nuclear energy; the question is to know when we will take a decision in Europe," EU Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso said. A political deal on EU measures to reshape energy policy in order to combat climate change, the so-called energy-climate package, should be reached by the end of the year, he said. Slovakia's leftwing premier, Robert Fico, meanwhile attacked the "absurd" commitment given by his country's previous centre-right government to shut down two nuclear reactors at Jaslovske Bohunice ahead of its entry into the EU. "This was reckless decision which means that Slovakia will have to import 20 percent of its electricity needs," he added. The Slovak government is now weighing up whether to construct a new nuclear plant at the Bohunice site on its own or in cooperation with foreign investors. Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas in turn called for Brussels to reconsider its demand that its nuclear power plant close in 2009, creating a serious two-year energy shortfall before new electricity interconnection links with Poland and Sweden can be completed and a new nuclear power plant constructed in cooperation with Estonia, Latvia and Poland. Meanwhile, the Italian government said Thursday it would begin building nuclear power stations, reversing a 20-year ban in an initiative likely to spark strong resistance and take a long time to come to fruition. "During the term of this parliament, we will lay the first stone for the construction in our country of a group of new-generation nuclear power stations," Economic Development Minister Claudio Scajola told the Italian employers' federation Confindustria in Rome. "We can no longer avoid an action plan for a return to nuclear power," he said. "Only nuclear power stations can produce energy on a large scale, in a secure way at competitive costs and one that respects the environment."

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