Finland set for row over new nuclear plant

The proposal of a new nuclear power plant in Finland – which would be Western Europe’s first since the 1980’s – has met with both strong praise and criticism.

Finnish energy firm Teollisuuden Voima Oy (TVO) applied for permission to build a new nuclear power station in the same week as talks on reducing greenhouse gas emissions continued in The Hague, hailing the proposal as “environmentally-friendly” and making it “possible to comply with the Kyoto protocol commitments”. Finland is currently facing grave difficulty in meeting its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol: instead of adhering to its pledge to keep its greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels, they have catapulted by 29.6% since then, one of the largest increases in the world.

Government opinion is reportedly divided on the proposal, but must agree to back the proposal before any parliamentary assent can be given. The Industry Minister Sinikka Mönkäre, together with business leaders, is thought to be in favour of the project, whilst the Environment Minister Satu Hassi is publicly against it.

TVO says that the new plant would be built on the same site as one of the country’s four existing ones, be either a boiling water or pressurised water type light water reactor, and take four years to construct, generating between 1,000 and 1,600 MW, depending on plant type. The cost has been estimated as anywhere between 10 and 15 billion markka (£1-1.5 million), to be financed by TVO itself.

At present more than 28% of Finland’s electricity already comes from nuclear power and the new plant would raise the level to about 35%. The country is reluctant to increase dependence on imported fossil fuels and electricity, and, does not have as good a hydroelectric energy supply as its Scandinavian neighbours. The proposed plant is therefore seen by many as necessary.

“The new plant unit will partly cover the need for additional capacity and replaces ageing plants which are to be decommissioned, ” said TVO’s President and CEO, Mr Mauno Paavola. “Thus, at long term, there will be sufficiently of domestic production capacity and the price of electricity is stable and predictable. On account of low production costs and, especially, of low fuel costs, nuclear power is very suitable for the open Nordic electricity market.” Paavola added that he wanted to provide nuclear power “capacity as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when the national climate programme is prepared”.

Europe’s nuclear industry has reacted to the news with unrestrained joy, with the trade association, FORATOM, hailing the announcement has having “enormous significance, coming as it does during the crucial UN climate change conference.”

“The debate in Finland will almost certainly revive the nuclear energy debate across the whole of Europe,” the group’s Secretary General, Dr. Wolf-J. Schmidt-Kuster. He praised TVO for taking “an option that is economically far-sighted and environmentally sound”.

However, European Union Commissioner for Environmental Affairs, Margot Wallstrom, reacted cautiously to the proposal. “My personal view is that… we have to look at sustainable solutions, and if we create a huge waste problem, that is not sustainable,” she said, adding that nuclear power was very expensive and while individual European countries could opt for it, developing states would be unable to afford such plants.

Finnish Greenpeace is outraged by the proposal and has already carried out protests in front of the project’s largest shareholder, the paper company UPM-Kymmene, saying the plant would endanger their environmental records and undermine the achievements Finland has made in the eyes of other European countries through the smart utilisation of it’s wood energy potentials.

“Such is the decline in nuclear power that Finnish paper companies should realise that a fifth nuclear reactor would be a focus for opposition, threatening their reputation and markets in Central-Europe,” Greenpeace said in a letter to shareholders. “A fifth Finnish reactor is an unnecessary and destructive diversion from placing Finland at the forefront of global moves to establish energy systems based upon energy efficiency and renewable energy systems. By the year 2030, carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by 40% by increased use of renewable energy sources and improved energy efficiency.”

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie