A long-delayed nuclear power plant in Finland has begun producing electricity, ready to provide energy to a region in need of the facility’s output in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The 1.6-GW Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor, which is now the largest reactor in Europe, began a regular production schedule on April 16, according to Teollisuuden Voima (TVO), a nuclear power company owned by Finnish utility Fortum and other members of an energy consortium. Construction of the plant began in 2005.
Russia cut supplies of natural gas and power to Finland and other European countries after invading Ukraine last year. Russia’s power exports to Finland were halted in May 2022 when Inter RAO, a Russian utility, said it had not been paid for energy the company had sold into Finland sold via Nord Pool, the pan-European power exchange.
Olkiluoto 3 is the first EPR to be built. It is a third-generation pressurized water reactor, originally known as a European Pressurized Water Reactor, or Evolutionary Power Reactor. It was developed and designed primarily by Framatome, along with Électricité de France, or EDF, in France, and Siemens in Germany.
German Plants Close
Olkiluoto 3 is starting up just as Germany on April 15 shuttered its remaining three nuclear facilities as that country concludes its phase-out of nuclear power. The closure of the three plants—Emsland, Isar 2, and Neckarwestheim—means Germany no longer will produce electricity from nuclear power for the first time in more than 60 years.
The closure of Germany’s remaining nuclear power plants comes despite fears of an energy shortage in the country. Germany also had said it would close several of the country’s remaining coal-fired power plants by year-end 2022, and phase out coal completely by the end of the decade. Officials, though, have since restarted some coal-burning facilities and extended closure dates for others to maintain a reliable supply of electricity.
The government now says that all coal-fired power plants will be closed by 2038, with several plants set to close in 2030. Coal at present produces about 30% of Germany’s electricity.
The German government in 2000 first pledged to phase out nuclear power and start shutting down plants, and 16 reactors have been taken offline since 2003. Germany last year delayed the closure of the three remaining nuclear facilities, which provided about 6.5% of the country’s electricity in 2022, after Russia reduced its supply of natural gas to Europe.
Unit 3 Delayed for Years
Olkiluoto 3 is the first nuclear power plant built in Finland in more than 40 years. It was originally scheduled to open in 2009, four years after construction began, but a series of technical issues delayed its start-up. The plant during testing began supplying power to Finland’s national grid in March 2022, and was expected to enter commercial operation in late summer of last year, before breakdowns and other problems resulted in more delays.
Last year’s problems came after years of other issues pushed back the project’s start date.
TVO in a statement said Olkiluoto 3 is expected to provide about 14% of Finland’s electricity production. The company said Sunday’s start-up came after completion of testing for the unit, which has an initial operating lifecycle of 60 years. TVO said the reactor’s output should reduce the need for imports of electricity from neighboring Sweden and Norway.
Jarmo Tanhua, TVO’s chief executive, in a statement said, “The production of Olkiluoto 3 stabilizes the price of electricity and plays an important role in the Finnish green transition.” The company added that “the electricity production volume of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant unit is a significant addition to clean, domestic production.”
Nuclear power experts have estimated Olkiluoto 3’s final price tag at about 11 billion euros ($12 billion). That figure is about three times the project’s original estimated cost.
Finland now has five operating reactors. Nuclear power, with the addition of Olkiluoto 3, is now expected to cover about 40% of the country’s electricity demand.
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).