Finland hopes the new nuclear reactor can ease the energy crisis

Finland hopes the new nuclear reactor can ease the energy crisis


After over a decade of delays, the deafening sound of Finland’s new Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor finally running its turbine at full power was greeted with joy – and relief.

The Nordic country hopes the plant will be able to face the challenges of the coming winter as Europe grapples with rising energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“It took a lot of perseverance and years of hard work to get to this point, so we’re feeling pretty good at the moment,” Johanna Aho, a spokeswoman for plant operator TVO, told AFP.

The nearly 300-degree steam pouring out of the reactor spins the 60-meter-long turbine up to 25 times per second, so visiting the turbine island in protective clothing feels as hot as one of Finland’s ubiquitous saunas.

More than 12 years late, Olkiluoto 3 reached full capacity on September 30 for the first time since construction began in 2005.

With an output of 1,600 megawatts, the reactor on the south-west coast of Finland is now the most powerful in Europe and the third most powerful in the world.

About 10 full load tests remain for the unit, during which it will periodically stop producing power for several days or even weeks before normal operation begins in December.

– Support for nuclear energy –

When the new unit reached full power on September 30, TVO said the Olkiluoto power plant accounted for around 40 percent of Finland’s electricity production, with the Olkiluoto 1 and 2 reactors together producing around 21 percent and the new OL3 alone producing around 19 percent.

“That’s a lot of power, and it’s the kind of steady, predictable, and stable power generation that nuclear power offers,” Aho said.

In recent years, support for nuclear power in Finland has increased, spurred by concerns about climate change.

A May poll by trade association Finnish Energy found that 60 percent of Finns support nuclear power, a record high.

But after Finnish company Fennovoima ended a nuclear power project with Russian company Rosatom in May, citing risks related to the war in Ukraine, there are no more nuclear reactor projects in the pipeline.

Finland gets about 50 to 60 percent of its electricity from hydropower, wind, solar and biomass, with fossil fuels and peat accounting for about 10 percent.

– French were “unprepared” –

Olkiluoto 3 was expected to be operational as early as 2009, six years after TVO announced a deal with France’s Areva and Germany’s Siemens to build the reactor.

But the project quickly ran into problems.

In 2006, TVO announced that “delays in construction and in the fabrication of the main coolant lines” had pushed back the reactor’s start date to 2010-2011.

And by 2009, when Finland’s nuclear safety agency STUK called for hundreds of fixes over “problems with construction,” the partners began finger-pointing.

TVO demanded 2.4 billion euros in compensation from Siemens and Areva for the setbacks. The two, in turn, demanded €1.0 billion from TVO, arguing that the project had encountered “stricter security requirements” than originally envisaged.

Areva, meanwhile, accused STUK of being slow in approving documents, to which STUK responded that the consortium was “unprepared”.

“The French didn’t understand the Finnish system at first, that no major device can be built before the plan is approved,” STUK’s Jukka Laaksonen told AFP at the time.

After years of litigation and even more delays, Areva and TVO settled their disputes in November 2018, with the French agreeing to pay 450 million euros ($554 million) in compensation.

– Model plagued by delays –

Design work on the EPR began in 1992 with the goal of creating a next-generation reactor with additional safety features that could convince public opinion, which was very skeptical about nuclear power after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

But the complex design has caused delays and problems.

Like Olkiluoto, the French EPR, construction of which began in 2007, has been plagued by delays and is still uncompleted.

In the UK, too, the construction of an EPR at Hinkley Point in south-west England is behind schedule.

China commissioned two EPR reactors at Taishan Power Plant in Guangdong province by 2019, but one was closed for over a year for repairs due to damaged fuel pellets and a build-up of gases in the closed cooling circuit.

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