Finland’s nuclear dilemma

Juha Miikkulainen is Development Manager with Fennovima, the company ready to build Finland's third nuclear power plant.

RAAHE: Development Manager Juha Miikkulainen doesn’t think the current disagreements between EU and Moscow will affect Finland’s plans for Pyhäjoki nuclear power plant where Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom is heavily involved.


Pyhöjoki NPP

Finland’s third nuclear power plant, Hanhikivi-1, will be build south of Oulu. The plant will be the second in the Barents Region after Kola NPP.

In Hungary, plans for new reactors at Paks nuclear power plant have run into problems with Euratom Supply Agency on the question of monopoly uranium fuel from Russia. In northern Finland, Fennovoima says the situation is different. 

“Fennovoima is a privately own company,” argues Juha Miikkulainen when asked by BarentsObserver. The Hungarian plant is fully own by the state.

The planned fuel supply for the Russian designed AES-2006 reactor to be built at Fennovoima’s plant in northern Finland was recently passed by Euratom and requires no further attention from the European Commission.

Pyhäjoki nuclear power plant will be built south of Oulu in northern Finland.

“But you never know about the future,” adds Miikkulainen. “Political disagreements globally can affect the project, but so far our cooperation is without problems.”

Construction work is expected to start in Pyhäjoki south of Oulu this autumn. If all goes according to plans, the reactor could start producing electricity from 2024. That is welcomed by the majority in the Finnish Parliament as the country today imports 20 percent of its electricity.

Russian reactor technology

The technology for what will be Finland’s third nuclear power plant will be delivered by Rusatom Overseas, a subsidiary of the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom. The reactor AES-2006 is 4th generation Russian designed water cooled reactors. First generation of these reactors was designed in the late 60ies (VVER-440/230) and is well known for the Barents Region with two units still in operation at Kola nuclear power plant.

The Phyöjoki reactor has an expected lifetime of 60 years and the nuclear power plant will employ an estimated 350 to 400 people during operational phase. Some 3,000 to 4,000 will be involved during construction.

The Finnish subsidiary of Rusatom Overseas will become a minority shareholder in Fennovoima with 34 percent of the shares.

Nuclear Physicist Nils Bøhmer with the Bellona Foundation.

Plans for acquiring uranium fuel from Rosatom’s TVEL plant is, however, not without controversies. Fennovoima’s says on its portal that this will be made from reprocessed spent nuclear fuel. Today, Russia has only one reprocessing plant in operation, the RT-1 at Mayak in the South Urals.

Operation at RT-1 started in 1976 and due to its bad waste-management reputation, Finland stopped shipping spent nuclear fuel there from its Lovisa plant in 1994.

“Environmental unfriendly technology”

“Reprocessing in Mayak takes place with old technology resulting in huge emission of radioactivity to the surroundings,” says nuclear physicist Nils Bøhmer with the Bellona Fundation. He has visited Mayak and several others of Russia’s nuclear waste locations.

“Companies purchasing reprocessed uranium from Mayak are indirectly funding this environmental unfriendly activity,” Bøhmer argues.

“Fennovoima only uses safe outstanding technology,” says Juha Miikkulainen. The 1200 MW AES2006 reactor will be one of the largest civilian power reactors ever built.

The steel plant in Raahe needs lots of electricity.

Heavy industry needs electricity

In Raahe, a town some 20 kilometres from where Pyhäjoki nuclear power plant will be built, the leadership of the SSAB Ruuki steel plant supports the plans. With 2,800 employees the plant is hungry for cheap electricity. Here, iron and steel production consumes one percent of all electricity in Finland.

In addition to Rusatom Overseas, the shares in Fennovoima include industrial and trading companies and local energy utilities.  

In Pyhäjoki municipalitiy, the local council last year voted 18 to 3 in favour of building the nuclear power plant. In Raahe, population is going down and the town can offer some 4-500 apartments that are for sale for one euro. The steelplant is one of the owners of Fennovoima.

Four calls for referendum

Hanna Halmeenpää, a politician in Oulu region says the local people in the areas around the planned nuclear power plant not at all agree to their new neighbour. 

“We want a referendum, but the Centre Party has opposed and they have the majority in the town council,” Halmeenpää explains.

Hanna Halmeenpää is calling for a loacl referendum which she believes will prove that people are not supporting Fennovoima.

“A referendum has been rejected four times already. First in 2007, then in 2009, 2013 and last time in 2014 after it became known that Russia’s Rosatom would be a co-owner.”

Representing the Green Party, Hanna Halmeenpää now runs for a seat in Parliament. Elections take place in April. Last fall, the Green Party walked out of Finland’s five-party coalition after the rest of the cabinet gave the go-ahead to Pyhäjoki nuclear power plant. In early December, the Parliament in Helsinki by a 115-74 vote approved the building of the plant with the Russian reactor technology.

“Rosatom is under control of Putin”

Living in Kuusamo not far from Finland’s border to Russia in the Northern Ostrobothnia region, Mika Flöyt is also running for the Green Party in the up-coming elections. BarentsObserver meets him outside the City Hall in Oulu where he shows his strong disagreement with the plans to build another nuclear power plant.

“The world’s political situation shows that Rosatom is under control of Putin. We should instead show our support to Ukraine,” Mika Flöyt argues.

Flöyt is also worried that more nuclear power in Finland could trigger opening of uranium mining in the country. “With more nuclear power, the more pressure on starting uranium mining there will be,” he says.

Mika Flöyt runs for a seat in the Finnish Parliament.

“Finland should shift to renewable power. Fennovoima doesn’t even have a good plan for handling the nuclear waste. Such waste must be kept safe for hundreds of thousands of years. Looking back in history, this area in Bothnia was under kilometres of ice only some few tens of thousands of years ago,” says Mika Flöyt.

Deep geological waste repository 

Juha Miikkulainen admits that the nuclear waste question is still not solved. He says to BarentsObserver that Plan A is to team up with Posiva, a company owned by the two existing producers of nuclear power in Finland, Fortum and TVO. Posiva is currently constructing the Onkalo deep geological repository for final disposal of spent nuclear fuel on Finland’s southwestern coast.

“Fennovoima is negotiating with Posiva, but with not so good results so far. But, our goal is a deal. Finland is the world leader on developing solutions for taking care of spent nuclear fuel,” Miikkulainen assures. 

He says Fennovoima will find its own bedrock solution if a deal with the two other nuclear power plants is not found. Spent nuclear fuel need to be cooled down for many years after taken out from the reactor so final disposal is by Fennovoima estimated to begin no earlier than in the 2070s.

Swedes are worried

The plan in Pyhöjoki worries the Swedes living across the waters of the Bothnia Gulf.

Per Holmqvist is a local activist in the town of Piteå with the NGO nuclear-free Gulf of Bothnia. The distance across the bay is 150 kilometres.

Per Holmqvist with the Swedish NGO nuclear-free Gulf of Bothnia.

“Nuclear power is deadly dangerous,” says Holmqvist and continues “It also brings on the responsibility to take care of the nuclear waste to future generations, and we do so without asking them.”

The anti-nuclear movement in northern Sweden are worried about the possible radioactive impact on the Norrbotten side of the Gulf. Per Holmquist agrees with the Greens in Finland.

“We have to create new renewable energy sources. Sun- and wind energy are cheaper to produce than nuclear power,” he says.