Finns are not nuclear power friendly - they are pragmatic

November 6, 2014 | 00:00

Finns are not nuclear power friendly – they are pragmatic

The Finns are attributed with two national characteristics: Sisu (best described as the strength not to give up, bravery, resilience and acting rationally in the face of adversity) and – secondly – they are pragmatic. Finland’s entire history of nuclear power, commencing at the end of the seventies and still going strong, is characterised by these two attributes. There cannot be many countries in the world where about half of the population is in favour of nuclear power, where communities were competing to become the home of a new nuclear power plant, where government, parliament and companies are not deterred by the extreme – about nine years - delay of the still pending start up of a nuclear power plant, and where Greenpeace is in vain looking for stronger support in the population and the media. According to Katarina Koivisto, energy writer for the Swedish speaking Finnish newspaper Huvudstadsbladet, “the Finns see nuclear power as the one alternative to get more power to a price that does not rise too high”.

Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant - source: Wikipedia
In Finland, two nuclear power plants with two reactors each are in operation. At the beginning of 1978, in Loviisa on the south coast, Imatra Voima (today Fortum) put Finland’s first nuclear reactor on the net, followed at the end of the same year by Teollisuuden Voima’s (TVO) reactor in Eurajoki (Olkiluto) on the Finnish southwest coast. In 1980 both companies added another reactor. At that time Finland lived in “a special relationship” with the Soviet Union. In practice, this meant that Finland had to order at least two reactors (Loviisa) from its eastern neighbour, whilst the two others (Olkiluoto) came from (neutral) Sweden. But as professors Karl-Erik Michelsen and Tumo Särkikoski describe in their book “Suomalainen ydinvoimalaitos” (A Finnish nuclear power station), while officially the Loviisa reactors were delivered by the Soviet Union, in reality they were developed by Imatra Voima’s engineers and the safety system came from the west.

In 2013, 27.1 percent of Finland’s electricity supply came from nuclear power, followed by hydro power (15.2), CHP (combined heat and power) district heating (16.4), CHP industry (12), condense etc. (9.7), wind power (0.9), and 18.7 percent was imported, mainly from Sweden and Norway. Even though the share of wind power will increase, in addition, bio- and sun energy will in the future make a significant contribution. However, in an opinion poll in 2012, 58 percent was of the opinion that the share of nuclear power should be increased or stay on the current level, and 35 percent favoured a decrease. The facts are that it is not realistic for Finland to return to coal, and that by a parliament decision a higher use of rivers for the production of hydro power is prohibited. Furthermore, in 2027 and 2030 both the 520 MW Loviisa-reactors are scheduled to close down.

The political goal is undisputed:

Finland’s electricity supply should become less dependent on imports, [...] mainly through nuclear power
Finland’s electricity supply should become less dependent on imports, and production losses caused by the closing down of several suppliers should be compensated through more renewable sources such as bio energy, wind, sun, peat and wood chips, but mainly through nuclear power. For that reason, in 2003 TVO got the permission to built Olkiluoto 3, which was supposed to go on the net in spring 2009, but is delayed until late 2018, according to the French supplier Areva. TVO’s comment: ”It is hard for us to accept such a late start-up forecast...”

Despite all the troubles with OL3, TVO has applied for the construction of OL4 and was given a positive decision-in-principle from parliament in 2010. At the same time, Fennovoima, founded in 2007, was notified of the same decision for its first reactor, whilst an application by Fortum was rejected. A few weeks ago, the government said no to TVO’s application for an extension of the 2010 decision, whilst the government decided to put a Fennovoima application for an extension forward to Parliament, which will decide in December.

The reasons for these applications are that TVO is facing a lot of problems with the delay of OL3 and is asking for about four years’ more time. The government is of the opinion that this would not be in the national interest and points out, that TVO still can apply for a construction licence for OL4 before summer 2015, at the end of the five-year 2010 decision period. Nevertheless, government accepted Fennovoima’s supplemented application. The application became necessary as German E.ON left Fennovoima and was replaced by the Russian company Rosatom, which became not only a 34 percent shareholder but also the reactor supplier. However, the government added an additional demand to this decision-in-principle: At least 60 percent of the share capital must originate from Finnish sources. Right now there is a gap of about 6 percentage points, which has to be closed by July 1, 2015.

This decision making process has had its political consequences. The Green League resigned from the governing five parties coalition, which is now left with a slender four-seat majority. The Greens are not just generally against nuclear power, in 2003 they had already left the then government after its decision in favour of the construction of OL3, and now they are especially concerned over the arrival of Rosatom. The party’s chairperson Ville Niinistö, until recently Minister of the Environment, branded the Russian plant supplier as “a secretive state-owned company” that has “a strategic role also in the Russian weapons industry”. On the other hand, Prime Minister Alexander Stubb argues: “Even Fennovoima-produced electricity is Finnish”.

Listening to the arguments for or against nuclear power in Finland, one realises pragmatism is a word permanently used. After WWII, Finland became a heavily industrialised country, dominated by the paper and pulp industry and the metal industry, all of them intense electricity consumers. The solution to cover the demand lay in nuclear power, where the big industrial players still have a strong position. Harri Hiitiö, municipal manager of the community Eurajoki with 3500 inhabitants,

If we get the benefit of nuclear power [...] we have to take care of nuclear waste too
where not only two reactors are in operation, another under construction but also an underground facility for the research into the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel is under development, tells EER: “We have lived with nuclear power for 40 years. Fairness and responsibility have been essential for us. If we get the benefit of nuclear power such as work opportunities and tax revenue, we have to take care of nuclear waste too. Furthermore, we trust our officials. If the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) says that something is safe, we believe it. Crucial is, that the Authority is strictly independent.” According to Mr Hiitiö, over the 40 years about 75 percent of the local population have been in favour of the nuclear industry almost all the time.

There was fierce competition over the site of the Fennovoima plant. Pyjäjoki, population 3400, was successful. Situated on Finland’s west coast, 30 km south of Raahe, the 1200 MW plant named Hanhikivi-1, “creates jobs and brings vitality to Northern Finland”, says municipal manager Matti Soronen. He points to two votes the project faced in the local council, “16-5 and 18-3 in favour of Hanhikivi-1.” In an opinion poll in August 2013, in Pyhäjoki 67 percent of the population supported the project, while 26 percent opposed it. A similar poll in the region, including Raahe and Oulu, the corresponding figures were 65 percent in favour and 29 percent against. The project faces more opposition on the other side of the water, in Sweden. Matti Soronen says: “We are aware of that and respect their opinions.”

STUK, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, is regarded as one of the toughest regulators in the world. Ask Areva! Cleverly enough, in order to learn as early as possible how to please STUK and to get the necessary permissions,

STUK, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, is regarded as one of the toughest regulators in the world
Rosatom hired the Authority’s former director general, Jukka Laaksonen. Another proof of STUK’s effectiveness are the load factors of the four operating reactors. In 2013 Loviisa 1 reached 92.9 percent, Loviisa 2 93.1 percent, Olkiluoto 1 97.1 percent and Olkiluoto 2 93.1 percent. Since 2004, only five times one of the Loviisa-units has ended just below 90 per cent, while in Olkiluoto not once. Current licences for Loviisa 2 and Olkiluoto 1 and 2 are for 20 years and for Loviisa 1 for 23 years. However, TVO follows the policy that their reactors should at any time have an operating life expectancy of 40 years.

Finally, there is another unique Finnish institution, which has the great support not only in the industry and the unions, but also in the population: the Mankala system. Mankala is – originally – the name of a hydro power plant, but since the sixties the name of a corporate electricity production system. Today, almost half of Finland’s electricity is produced in Mankala-companies. TVO is one, Fennovoima another. Industrial companies as well as regional and local communities are becoming shareholders and then receive their share of electricity at cost price. Mankala companies are not expected to produce profits. And another advantage: Mankala electricity is VAT (value added tax) free.

However, the system is attacked by the Green League. Heidi Hautala, once Minister of International Development and State Ownership, today an MEP, will again turn to the European Commission in order to obtain a decision on whether Mankala works in accordance with European regulations. Ms Hautala tells EER: “Mankala is a tax evasion system.” The Greens turn for a second time to the European Commission. In 2012 “the Commission mysteriously closed the case.”

Looking at the strong position of nuclear power and the relatively small investments in renewable energies, some experts are critical. Professors Peter Lund and Karl-Erik Michelsen ask:

The alternative to nuclear would be a combination of renewable electricity and energy efficiency
Is there really a need for so much nuclear power? They, and Ms Hautala, argue that Finland is facing a change in industrial structures, away from heavy, electricity intensive industry. According to Peter Lund, Finland could get the highest share of nuclear power in Europe if the French decision to reduce nuclear dependency holds. He tells EER, “The alternative to nuclear would be a combination of renewable electricity and energy efficiency. By 2030, their share could be 50:50.” He also looks sceptical at the Mankala system which “decreases competition”. He criticises government for not favouring small consumer-orientated energy solutions.

However, today it seems that nuclear power will continue to play a major role. Whether all planned projects are going to be realised, is however an open question. There are quite a few high hurdles to be passed. Furthermore, in April 2015 Finland is facing a general election. This as such should not be a threat to the future of nuclear power. For the Finns it is a natural part of their life. In 2012, 56 percent of the Finns agreed that nuclear power will be used for the foreseeable future, while 28 percent disagreed.

 

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