PARIS, Jan 8 (AFP): Surging oil prices, deepening concern about carbon pollution and sudden worries over Russia's reliability as a gas supplier have been a windfall for Europe's nuclear and renewable energy industries.
Both sectors are looking to 2006 and beyond to widen their share of Europe's energy market, where oil and gas remain firmly enthroned.
The biggest beneficiary could be the continent's nuclear firms, whose fortunes have been blighted for nearly two decades.
The 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which sent a pall of radioactive fallout over much of Europe, was a hallmark.
It blocked the construction of new nuclear plants across Western Europe, caused others to be mothballed or scrapped, encouraged a shift to wind energy and other clean sources and prompted the rise of Europe's powerful green movement.
Things, though, are changing. Little by little, nuclear's time in the wilderness is coming to an end.
"Over the past two years, we have seen a perceptible shift in public opinion about nuclear power... people are much more positive," Laurent Furedi, a spokesman for the industry's lobby association, Foratom, in Brussels, told AFP.
"There are various factors for it, namely security of supply, the rising price of (fossil-fuel) energy, and concern about climate change from carbon gases. The public mood is changing a lot, and is overtaking fears about nuclear."
Last year Finland became the first European country in 15 years to start building a new nuclear power plant, a facility scheduled to go into operation in 2009.
Bulgaria put out tenders for the construction of a nuclear plant to replace Soviet-era reactors being closed for safety reasons at Kozloduy.
France pushed ahead with plans for a so-called third-generation design, like that being built in Finland, to replace its existing stable of nuclear reactors.
President Jacques Chirac unveiled Wednesday a scheme for a "fourth-generation" prototype reactor, designed to be more efficient and produce less waste, that would start up by 2020.