Russian roulette? Finland's inexplicable nuclear obsession

| 1st May 2015
A demonstration against nuclear power outside the Finnish Parliament, April 2009. Photo: Ulla Klotzer.
A demonstration against nuclear power outside the Finnish Parliament, April 2009. Photo: Ulla Klotzer.
Does Finland suffer from a nuclear death wish? So it seems, writes Ulla Klötzer. Its government responded to the world's two greatest nuclear disasters by ... ordering a new nuclear plant. And as the Olkiluoto nuclear project descended into face and litigation over a disputed €5 billion, they resolved to build two more. This time, supplied by Russia's nuclear weapon-maker Rosatom.
The main pro-nuclear argument in the Parliament was to make Finland less dependent on energy imports from Russia. But in 2012, after the Fukushima accident, Eon's 34% share of the company was taken over by the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom.

Finland was the first western country to decide to build a new nuclear power plant after the Chernobyl accident, as well as after the Fukushima catastrophe - despite of almost all opinion polls showing that a majority of Finns are critical to nuclear power.

The first project, decided upon in 2002, was at the existing Olkiluoto nuclear site - the OL3 European Pressurized Reactor (EPR), a 'third generation' pressurized water design.

This 1.6 GW reactor, which is currently being built by the French company Areva for the Finnish energy supplier TVO, will be the biggest reactor in the world.

The construction work started in 2005 and the reactor was to be connected to the grid in 2009. The fixed turnkey-price was €3.2 billion. According to Areva, EPR is "a reactor with an unparalleled level of security, extremely resistant to both internal and external risks."

Today, the price has soared to about €9 billion and the reactor is estimated to be completed only in 2018. According to the Helsinki Times in November 2013, the OL3 reactor may upon completion become the most expensive building in the world.

Now, fighting in court over a disputed $5 billion

Meanwhile Areva and TVO are battling in the International Chamber of Commerce about the increasing costs. TVO has made a claim of €2.3 billion against Areva, and Areva a claim of €2.7 billion against TVO.

Numerous problems have occurred with the Finnish OL3 EPR. As early as 2006, the Finnish radiation and nuclear safety authority, STUK, released a report about insufficient guidance of subcontractors' work concerning the OL3 nuclear power plant, pointing out many serious problems with the construction.

The STUK press release in regard to the report states among other things: "The power plant vendor has selected subcontractors with no prior experience in nuclear power plant construction to implement the project. These subcontractors have not received sufficient guidance and supervision to ensure smooth progress of their work".

In October 2009, the UK nuclear safety regulator (HSE's ND), the French nuclear regulator (ASN), and STUK made a joint regulatory position statement on the EPR. It dealt primarily with ensuring the adequacy of the safety systems, which should maintain control of the plant under abnormal conditions and should be independent from the control systems that operate the plant under normal conditions.

System independence is crucial. If, in case of an accident, both systems fail together, it will have catastrophic consequences. In the joint statement the regulatory bodies pointed out that

"AREVA doesn't comply with the independence principle, as there is a very high degree of complex interconnectivity between the control and safety systems."

The main pro-nuclear argument in the Parliament was to make Finland less dependent on energy imports from Russia. But in 2012, after the Fukushima accident, Eon's 34% share of the company was taken over by the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom.

Areva hit by problems

The same EPR design is also being built by Areva in Flamanville, France. This project is suffering the same problems as OL3, with rising costs and delays. On top of that, at the end of 2014 extremely serious fabrication defects were found in the lid and the pressure vessel bottom, a crucial part of the Flamanville EPR reactor.

The defective pressure vessel was forged at Areva's own Le Creusot plant, whereas the Finnish corresponding components were entirely forged by Japan Steel Works, apparently without repeating the fault.

Since replacing the crucial part will be connected with significant costs, the question arises, the question arises: would it now be cheaper to abandon the Flamanville project altogether?

The Hinkley Point reactor in the UK, now being seriously criticized because of the highly disputed financial state support built up to get the project running, is also to use the EPR technology - this time with two reactors each of 1.2GW.

Astonishingly, Areva has already made the two reactors for Hinkley C - even though its client, EDF, has yet to order them, because in turn, EDF and the UK Government have yet to finalise terms pending anticipated legal challenges to the subsidy package.

Areva, 87% owned by the French state, has already been hit with huge financial problems, with a loss of around €4.9 billion for 2014, substantially larger than the company's stock-market value of about €3.7 billion. If it finds itself with two unwanted reactor vessels on its hands, things will only get worse.

From Russia with love

Despite of all the problems with the Finnish OL3 reactor, the Finnish Parliament voted for two further new reactors in 2010: OL4 planned to be built at the site of OL3 in Eurajoki at the Finnish west coast; and the Fennnovoima reactor, planned to be built in Pyhäjoki in northern Finland.

No reactor design was specified for either project, but the presumption was that OL4 would be another EPR, while Fennnovoima, then 34% owned by the German company Eon, would be built to the Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 design.

The main pro-nuclear argument in the Parliament was to make Finland less dependent on energy imports from Russia. But in 2012, after the Fukushima accident, Eon withdrew from the Fennovoima project.

And incredibly - in view of the debate in Parliament - Eon's share of the company was taken over by the Russian nuclear energy and nuclear weapons producer Rosatom, which is directly tied to the Russian government.

The reactor type that Rosatom plan to build in Finland, a 1.2GW AES-2006 pressurized water reactor, has never before been built in a western economy. Additionally, this reactor will be among the largest reactors in the world.

The story of Fennovoima also deserves scrutiny because of the fact that Jukka Laaksonen in 2012, immediately after retiring as longtime general manager of STUK, became vice president of the Russian company Rosatom Overseas. STUK has over the years played, and is still playing, a crucial and extremely pro-nuclear role in the permit process of new nuclear power plants.

In the Rosatom Country Newspaper of 9th July 2012 Jukka Laaksonen was asked: "What are your responsibilities in Rosatom Overseas now?" Her answer:

"Very generally, my work is to promote ROSATOM's technology in the world market in all possible ways...For me this is easy because I personally know all the world's leading regulators from my past activities."

Since the Eon shares were obtained by Rosatom, the Finnish Parliament had to vote again on the project. The vote in December 2014 was in favor of the new plant, despite the tough stance of the European Union on trade with Russia (due to the situation in the Ukraine).

And, even more amazingly, this time there was no discussion about Finland's dependency on energy import from Russia.

What makes the whole issue even more delicate is that Eon was just a 34% shareholder in Fennovoima, whereas Rosatom is a 34% shareholder but will also provide any loans needed for the project, build the reactor and provide the fuel for the reactor, and so will, in effect, be in full control of the project.

Areva, Rosatom and nuclear weapons

Eon had no connection to nuclear weapons whereas on the Rosatom homepage for a number of years it was stated that:

"The Nuclear Weapons Complex of ROSATOM implements the nuclear deterrence policy pursued by Russia. The sector operates in liaison with defence industry ... the nuclear weapons industry paved the way for the national nuclear power because the idea to use nuclear for electricity generation appeared in the process of A-bomb creation."

What about energy self-sufficiency? What about Finland's in former days quite prominent role of acting for peace and disarmament in the world?

In addition to Rosatom's direct connection to nuclear weapons, it is worth mentioning that also Areva has connections to the nuclear weapons industry.

In 1945 the French government created the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) with the explicit and secret task of undertaking the French nuclear bomb program, as well as developing civilian nuclear applications.

The CEA has since then consolidated the military-civilian nuclear connection, both domestically and internationally. The CEA deals with a wide area of nuclear matters. Its former subsidiary Cogema, now Areva NC, is responsible for the production and maintenance of nuclear materials, including plutonium.

No lessons learned

The Finnish politicians have apparently not learned anything from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

OL4 appears, thankfully, to have been shelved for the time being. But OL3, one of the ten most expensive construction projects in the world and beset by delays and astronomical costs, could end up as the world's biggest nuclear mausoleum.

The Fennovoima project, however is still going ahead. But an active citizens' movement has come together to oppose it, and they may yet succeed.

Finland's new government (not yet appointed at the time of writing) will have the decision in its hands, as they will have to decide about the construction permit application that Fennovoima is to submit in July this year.



Petition: 'Stop the Nuclear power plant in Pyhäjoki built by Fennovoima!'

Ulla Klötzer is Coordinator of Women Against Nuclear Power - Finland, a teacher, active since 40 years in anti-nuclear and peace movements and former vice chair of the Green League of Finland. She has been invited speaker at several national and international conferences and meetings on nuclear power, she has participated in numerous demonstrations against nuclear power all over Europe, and she has coordinated several meetings between foreign groups of energy experts and representatives of nuclear critical associations with Finnish members of Parliament and STUK. She is also one of the initiative takers of the European '1 million signatures against nuclear power' campaign in 2007 and a writer of two books about nuclear power and nuclear weapons.


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