A third nuclear plant scheduled to come up in Olkiluoto, an island on Finland’s western coast, finds itself wedged between realizing the country’s increasing need for energy and the European Union‘s goals to control the climactic changes.
Finland already leads the race as far as the use of renewable energy is concerned. A quarter of the electricity that it consumes comes from Olkiluoto’s two existing 860 MW units and from two more 488 MW blocs at utility Fortum Loviisa plant.
However, with no domestic source of oil and a reliance on Russian natural gas, it feels the stings of inadequacy to fulfill the growing demands of the industry; in addition, the harsh winters demand electricity and heating for 5.3 million people.
According to industry-controlled utility Teollisuuden Voima (TVO) the reactor will be the first in utilizing the third-generation nuclear safety technology, alongwith a double-reinforced concrete structure coupled with a pressure resistant, air-tight inner shell. This outer shell according to the developers is so designed that it withstands external impacts up to the equivalent of a commercial jetliner crash.
It is also expected that Finland, within a decade or so could possibly raise two to three new reactors to meet this demand. This is also meeting approval from half a dozen municipalities in the country who seem to look at it as an opportunity for new jobs and tax revenue.
As Energy Minister Mauri Pekkarinen says,
“it is partly the EU’s new goal to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 that is pushing Finland to consider more nuclear power in addition to the Olkiluoto project.”
There also seems to be increase in the number of the people of Finland who favour the upcoming nuclear construction; those who are alleged to be environmentally conscious. Though the memories of Chernobyl disaster are still fresh in the Nordic region, a poll conducted in May by agency Taloustutkimus for weekly magazine Suomen Kuvalehti revealed that 35 percent of the population was against the nuclear plans as opposed to 41 percent last year.
It was only five years ago that thousands of people from Finland marched in Helsinki marking the anniversary of Chernobyl disaster alongwith protesting the construction of new neuclear plants.
However, there is still increasing opposition from environmental groups. Environment Minister Paula Lehtomaki who has lately joined the environmental groups is apprehensive about the fact that nuclear power is increasingly accepted as an environmentally friendly alternative as compared with other forms of energy.
According to the environmental groups, billions to be spent on new nuclear plants could be allocated for efficiency measures, renewable energy and decentralized networks. This they say could deliver quick and cheap emission cuts.
Says Greenpeace campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta, who protested the creating of Olkiluoto plant by spending five days in a crane suspended 60 meters above the site,
“I see it as a threat that Finland is being profiled as a country with nuclear sympathies and no criticism,”
At the same time delays and sharply rising costs have also delayed the construction of the new Olkiluoto facility.
The construction of the nuclear plant at Olkiluoto is certainly going to take some time; however for now it has become the hotspot for the tourists. As Jukka Laaksonen, head of Finland’s nuclear watchdog STUK, who supervises the site, says,
“We have become somewhat of a tourist attraction. High level (foreign) politicians are meeting me weekly, keen to hear how we are doing,”