Controversial nuclear power plant nears completion

Finland’s Olkiluoto-3 nuclear power plant is finally set to be operational next year, ten years late, and at €8.5bn, almost three times as expensive as initially slated.

The FT reports that the plant is approaching a key final testing phase and when completed will be the first new nuclear power plant in western Europe for 15 years.

The success of the plant and its European Pressurised Reactor technology is critical to the future of the industry, and Fortum chief executive Pekka Lundmark stated that lessons must be learned.
Olkiluoto nuclear power plant
“If the nuclear industry wants to have a future it cannot afford more projects like this,” he said. Fortum owns a 26 per cent stake in TVO, the consortium behind Olkiluoto-3. Areva, the French reactor manufacturer, began building Olkiluoto in 2005 with a target for completion by 2009 at a cost of €3.2bn.

Olkiluoto is entering a crucial phase with “cold functional testing”, the first operational trials of the reactor system, due to start in June. Several further important milestones must be cleared in the months ahead before the Finnish nuclear regulator can issue an operating licence.

“The road to completion is quite clear,” says Jarmo Tanhua, TVO chief executive. “We already have a full-scope [computer] simulator running, so we know at least that the plant operates in theory. We just have to show that it also does in practice.”

As well as Fortum and other smaller Finnish power suppliers, TVO’s owners include several of the country’s largest manufacturers such as UPM, the paper producer, which are relying on Olkiluoto-3 for long-term energy supply.

The EPR was designed with safety as the top priority after the Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine a decade earlier spewed radioactive fallout across Europe. But extra safeguards, such as a concrete dome over the reactor strong enough to withstand an aircraft strike, have proved ruinously expensive to build.

Tanhua says the difficulties of the past decade will eventually be forgotten once the plant begins producing reliable, low-carbon energy. “We can still become a flagship for the EPR and show there is a future for the European nuclear industry,” he said.

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