It is not a good time politically to be a promoter of a building a new nuclear reactor in Finland or Sweden
In neighboring Sweden, a minority “green” party” is advancing plans to undo an agreement inked in 2009 by that nation’s government to replace aging reactors one-by-one as they reach the end of their service lives.
Both nations are among Europe’s most intensive users of electricity due to their long, cold winters and geography that extends beyond the Arctic circle (66’33″N).
Finland gets 30% of its electricity from nuclear power and Sweden gets 40% which makes proposals for decreases in the maintenance or growth of their respective nuclear fleets a dicey proposition given the lack of sustainable and secure alternatives. Buying more Russian natural gas is not on the list and hydro or other renewable energy sources cannot meet growing demand for electricity.
On 9/25 the Finnish cabinet voted by a 3-1 margin to deny a permit to Finnish utility TVO to build a fourth reactor in that country. While TVO can reapply for the permit, the government’s reason for the vote last month is based on concerns over steep cost increases and significant schedule delays in completion of an Areva 1650 MW EPR at Olkiluoto.
The cabinet officials said that until they have assurances this reactor, TVO’s third, can be completed and brought into revenue service, that it is not going to authorize TVO to start work on a fourth.
But that decision didn’t mean the end of new reactor construction in Finland. Earlier in September Economic Minister Jan Vapaavuori recommended that the cabinet instead support a proposal by Finnish nuclear utility Fennovoima to build a Russian supplied VVER 1000 MW reactor at Pyhajoki. That proposal has run into political headwinds in Finland due to Russia’s instigation of troubles in the Ukraine.
Rosatom has a one-third equity stake in the Fennovoima project which makes the task of dislodging the firm from the project more than just a vote in parliament. Yet, that’s what Finnish political leader Olli Rehn calls for. He wants Finland to get in line with the rest of Europe and freeze nuclear cooperation with Russia over the Ukrainian crisis.
Rehn is not just some backwoods yahoo. His views carry considerable weight in Finland and elsewhere in Scandinavia. He’s held positions in the European Union and is widely regarded as a thought leader by peers in other nations.
Safety concerns about the Rosatom design have also come to the surface and from a surprising source. Jukka Laaksonen, the former head of Finland’s nuclear safety regulatory agency, and now VP for Operations of Rosatom work in Finland, told a Finnish newspaper that the design for the new reactor is out of date. Specifically, he said a stronger containment structure, with thicker walls, would be needed for the reactor to be built in Finland. He promised that a new design would be submitted to the Finnish nuclear safety agency next summer.
Sweden’s Green Party, having forged a coalition as a minority partner with the Social Democrats, is pushing for a complete phase out of the country’s 9 Gwe of nuclear power. The effort is intended to overturn a 2009 measure enacted by that country’s then centrist government that it would replace reactors one-by-one as they reached the end of their service lives.
Even so the Social Democrats are not nearly so keen as the Greens on phasing out the nation’s nukes. The Greens seek an aggressive schedule of shutting down all the reactors over the next four years. However, no deadline for action has been announced, and Social Democrat leader, and former Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven said the reactors will be needed “for the foreseeable future.”
For now Lofven isn’t directly opposing the actions of his coalition’s green partners, but like all politicians who have held high office, he’s keeping his options open.
A much stronger position by Swedish nuclear expert Agneta Rising, who also leads the World Nuclear Association, was laid out in response to the Greens’ efforts. She said in a statement that the nuclear phase out was bad for Sweden and “a bad example for the rest of the world.”
According to a report quoting her extensively on the WNA news web site, she said, ”
“There is big support for using nuclear power in the country and the electricity system is working very well. From regulation to the operation of nuclear power plants, to a fully-costed system for taking care of the waste, there are no major obstacles in the way of the system, which has worked well for more than 40 years.”
“Sweden has an electricity system that is almost optimal when you consider that nearly 50% comes from nuclear power and nearly 50% from hydro power. It is a clean, competitive and stable electricity system. To get out of that situation, which every other country would dream of being in, is bad news for Sweden and a bad example for the rest of the world.”
The WNA report added that Rising warned that closing operating reactors would be costly and could lead to utilities having less money to invest in renewables. She emphasized that Sweden already has one of the best records in the world on carbon dioxide emissions per capita.
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