Finnish Nuclear Plant Start-up Delayed Again

Another nuclear power project has been delayed, as the Fennovoima consortium and Russia’s state-run nuclear company Rosatom said the Hanhikivi 1 power plant’s projected start-up date has been pushed to 2028, four years behind the original schedule and eight years later than the proposed start when Finland’s government supported the project in 2010.

The announcement on Dec. 21 came after Fennovoima, a group of Finnish industrial and energy companies, warned more than a year ago of potential delays, in part due to Rosatom’s problems with securing approval to begin construction from Finland’s nuclear regulatory group. Nuclear power in European nations has been subject to stricter safety standards after the Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011. New regulations include proof that core reactors can withstand direct impact from an aircraft.

Fennovoima as recently as June said the planned 1,200-MW Hanhikivi plant, located in Pyhäjoki in northern Ostrobothnia on Finland’s northwest coast, would be operational by 2024. If it comes online, the plant would be Finland’s sixth nuclear power facility.

The Hanhikivi project joins another oft-delayed reactor in Finland. The Olkiluoto 3 plant, being built by a consortium of France’s Areva and Germany’s Siemens, has been delayed by more than a decade, which has prompted numerous lawsuits. Reports have said costs for the Olkiluoto project are more than three times what was originally budgeted.

Other European nuclear plants, including Flamanville 3 in France, also have suffered from numerous construction delays and cost overruns. The Cumbria project at Moorside in the UK was recently scrapped, with Japan’s Toshiba saying its NuGeneration subsidiary could not find a buyer for the project.

The only new UK nuclear power station to get the go-ahead so far is EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C in Somerset. That 3,200-MW plant, which would be powered by two European pressurized water reactors (EPRs) from EDF Energy, started construction in 2016 and is expected to be operational between 2025 and 2027.

New nuclear reactors also have been besieged by problems in the U.S., including the Vogtle expansion in Georgia, the V.C. Summer project in South Carolina, and an attempt to resurrect the Bellefonte nuclear plant in Alabama.

Licensing Problems

The Fennovoima project, with a VVER-1200 pressurized water reactor from Rosatom, has been beset by problems, most notably Rosatom’s struggle to meet the strict standards of STUK, the Finnish nuclear regulator that is considered among the world’s most demanding. The consortium said its plan now is to receive its construction license and begin the project in 2021; the group earlier said it had hoped to begin construction this year. The construction license would be granted by Finland’s government, but only after a positive safety assessment from STUK.

“Finnish safety regulations are the strictest in the world and because of that the design has taken longer than expected,” said Fennovoima chief executive Toni Hemminki in a news release.

Rosatom not only is supplying the reactor for Hanhikivi, but it also is the project’s main shareholder, and the lead financial backer of the Fennovoima consortium. Fortum, Finland’s top utility, in 2015 was pushed by Finland’s government to join the consortium to ensure it had enough European Union shareholders.

The project has been politically charged. The country’s Green party quit the then-government in 2014, saying the project was being done as part of “Finlandisation,” a term that means the smaller country—Finland—was adapting policies to find favor with a larger neighbor, in this case Russia. The Greens, as they are known, have continued to argue against the project.

The Hanhikivi plant would generate as much as 10% of Finland’s electricity. Because Rosatom is the lead shareholder of the project, with an ownership stake of more than one-third, some Finnish lawmakers have argued Russia would have too much control over Finland’s power and could use that leverage to manipulate power prices.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).