Finland is eying a new nuclear power plant that could cost as much as $8 billion and provide a tenth of the country’s electricity. The FT reports:
The 1,200 megawatt power plant — known as Hanhikivi 1 and due to be completed by 2024 — could provide Finland with about 10 per cent of its electricity, boost the country’s economic growth, and be a boon for a group of local companies as well as Russia’s Rosatom…Fennovoima thinks it can avoid the problems that have dogged the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear project in Finland and Hinkley Point in the UK.
But this is more than merely a story about a new commitment to an essential component of a sustainable energy mix. Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom owns a 34 percent stake in the company behind this new project, and as the FT details it has a tight grip on many more aspects of the proposed plant:
As well as providing the reactor and serving as the main shareholder in Fennovoima, Rosatom is also supplying all the finance and the atomic fuel…Toni Hemminki, Fennovoima’s chief executive, argues that the accusations of “Finlandisation” are nonsense because Rosatom provided the most attractive offer, not least because it will provide cheap financing. Unlike France’s Areva, which is struggling with its new European pressurised reactor technology at Olkiluoto and Flamanville in France, Rosatom has built more than 50 of its so-called water-water reactors. “It gives them credibility,” adds Mr Hemminki.
We’ve seen this tension before. In March of last year, Brussels killed a nuclear deal between Rosatom and Hungary on the grounds that Budapest didn’t open up the contracts for the project to competitive bids. The EU would go on to approve the project a month later after Hungary revised the agreement to give Rosatom exclusive fuel supply rights to the reactors for ten years, instead of the twenty years originally agreed upon, but the whole saga exposed Europe’s wariness of relying on Russia for energy—whether that’s natural gas sourced from Gazprom or nuclear power technology and fuel sourced from Rosatom.
But Russia’s involvement won’t be the only reason to follow the progress of this Finnish nuclear plant. A generation of nuclear reactors around the world are approaching the end of their life cycle, and as they come offline governments will be forced to either recommit or abandon the zero-emissions energy source. If Finland can demonstrate the ability to construct a new plant on time and without the sorts of cost overruns the UK’s Hinkley Point plant is currently experiencing, other governments might be swayed to embrace the green energy workhorse themselves.