Finnish reactor delays slow nuclear renaissance

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

By Sami Torma
HELSINKI, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Finland is pressing ahead with construction of its fifth nuclear reactor but the plant has faced long delays and seems unlikely to herald a quick revival of Europe's atomic industry.

Construction of the reactor -- one of only two major atomic projects underway in largely nuclear-sceptical Western Europe -- was originally scheduled to start in 2009 but construction delays and rising costs have now pushed that back to 2011.

French utility EDF said it had started to build a new reactor in Flamanville, France, last week.

When France's Areva and Germany's Siemens have finally finished building the 1,600 megawatt, 3 billion-euro ($4.4 billion) Olkiluoto 3 reactor on Finland's west coast it will be the world's largest single unit.

As the EU tries to cut emissions of CO2 and boost power supply, the nuclear option is becoming more attractive to some governments and energy companies, despite public fears stemming from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Finnish Energy Minister Mauri Pekkarinen sees the new Finnish reactor as a way of helping the country to meet the European Union's goal of cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

But he does not see the plant sparking a big revival in the nuclear industry.

"I don't sign up to the notion that we can generally talk about a nuclear renaissance," Pekkarinen told Reuters.

"There are some signs of talk of more nuclear in certain countries, but in the (EU) energy council it is not strongly on the agenda," Pekkarinen said.

"Hardly anyone is talking about it."

The Finnish plant's operator, industry-controlled utility Teollisuuden Voima (TVO), has blamed strict security measures for delaying construction, including fortification of the reactor to withstand a plane crash.


But many officials believe a rise in nuclear power capacity is only a matter of time.

"Rebuilding the whole industry takes a certain time," said the head of Finland's nuclear watchdog, Jukka Laaksonen.

"The fact that there are no equipment providers or designers with experience means things have to be re-learned."

He added that the schedule for Olkiluoto 3 had been too tight initially.

Laaksonen said the United States was now the driving force behind a nuclear revival in the western world:

"Although official circles are not willing to admit it, nuclear power is the only way to come up with large (capacity carbon neutral) units in a relatively short period of time."

TVO's head of nuclear safety, Herkko Plit, said that while progress on the new reactor had been slow due to safety measures, its completion would bring more credibility to nuclear power.

"(A nuclear revival) is not 'around the corner' but 'already at the corner'," he said. "Someone has to be the one to take the first step and we have done it."

The commercial start date of the Finnish reactor is being closely watched by other EU member states wary of piling back into nuclear projects.

France generates three quarters of its energy from nuclear sources and also Britain is considering new plants. Last month, 4,000 energy industry representatives gathered in Rome, hailing nuclear energy as an essential part of the energy mix.

France's Areva, building the reactor in Finland, has taken provisions related to construction delays, but after the latest delay announced in August it said it saw no further costs.

(Editing by Chris Johnson)

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