(February 1, 2002) The Finnish government approved on 17 January the "decision-in-principle" to build a fifth nuclear power plant in the country. Ten ministers of the government coalition voted in favor of the project, six against it and two were not present for the vote. The Finnish Parliament, the Eduskunta, must now vote on the project and first debates are expected as early as next month. Parliament members are still heavily divided over the issue and votes of about one third of the MPs are still unclear. Within almost all fractions, votes are evenly divided and a number of MPs can still be convinced to vote against the project.
(562.5367) WISE Amsterdam - Electricity utility Teollisuuden Voima Oy (TVO) had on 15 November 2000 formally applied for the construction of the fifth reactor, to be built next to one of the two Finnish nuclear power stations (each with two reactors), Loviisa (Fortum Power and Heat Oy) or Olkiluoto (TVO). A preliminary cost estimate expects the project to cost Euro 1.7-2.5 billion (US$1.5-2.2 billion).
The discussion within the government has split both the government and the coalition partner Social Democrats. Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja (Social Democrats) decided to vote in favor simply because he wanted the Parliament to decide about it. To try and avoid an open breach, other ministers followed that line although several members are clearly in favor of the plans.
The Finnish Parliament, the Eduskunta, can only vote "yes" or "no" to the decision-in-principle. No amendments can be made. After ratification by the Eduskunta, TVO has five years to submit a construction license for the reactor. Otherwise the decision will expire. Together with the decision-in-principle on the fifth reactor, the government made a decision-in-principle on the disposal of the spent fuel of the reactor. In May 2001 the Parliament already agreed with plans for research on a disposal site for spent fuel from four reactors in rock near the Olkiluoto station (see WISE News Communique 549: "In Brief"). The present decision-in-principle on spent fuel from the fifth reactor allows the disposal of that fuel in the same repository site.
Opinion polls have shown that a big number of MPs haven't decided yet what to vote or don't want to make it public yet. Of the 200 Eduskunta members, 69 will certainly vote in favour of the project and 60 will vote against. But for 71 MPs it is still unclear what they will do. These 71 MPs can still be asked to vote against the construction of the reactor.
Within the fractions, votes are also divided. Only the members of the Green Parliament Group will vote unanimously against. It is expected that within the other fractions the MPs will be given a free vote, regardless of the party's opinion on nuclear energy. An opinion poll by the Finnish newspaper Väli-Suomen Sanomat showed the results for all the fractions:
|members||vote for||vote against||uncertain vote|
|Social Democrat Party||52||18||10||24|
|Finnish Center Party||47||10||12||25|
|National Coalition Party||46||35||2||9|
|Swedish Parliament Group||12||2||8||2|
|Green Parliament Group||11||0||11||0|
The Finnish Center Party has the largest amount of uncertain votes, followed by the Social Democrats. The Social Democrats are difficult but certainly not impossible to win for votes against the fifth reactor. The party is closely connected to the labor unions, of which the biggest union has chosen to support the project. Both the members of the Center Party and the Social Democrats are a big "repository" of potential voters against the reactor. The uncertain votes of the National Coalition Party (conservatives) are expected to become mostly in favor, but a few of them might vote against. For the other fractions it is difficult to make predictions.
It is unclear how TVO plans to finance the plant. The decision-in-principle doesn't include government subsidies or loans for the project: "the Government does not regard it as its obligation to participate in the project's financial assistance". There are also no subsidies for avoiding greenhouse gas emissions or tax reductions. In 1997 the Finnish energy tax system was changed so that the fuel used for electricity production was not taxed anymore but the end product itself, electricity, is.
In 1993, the last time the Finnish government adopted a decision-in-principle for a fifth reactor, Parliament decided not to ratify the decision, voting 107-90 against the plans. Also at that time a campaign was started to put pressure on MPs not to vote for the fifth reactor (see WISE News Communique 400-401: "Finnish parliament votes against 5th N-reactor"). That campaign worked in 1993, this year hopefully as well!
- Government Decision-in-Principle, 17 January 2002
- NuclearFuel, 21 January 2002
- Nucleonics Week, 24 January 2002
- email from Harri Lammi (Greenpeace Finland)
- email from Outi Hannula (Green Party), 25 January 2002
Contact: Outi Hannula at firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: +358 9 5860 4165, fax: +358 9 5860 4161;
or Harri Lammi at Greenpeace Finland, Aurorankatu 11 a 2, 00100 Helsinki, Finland Tel: +358 9 431 571 35; email: email@example.com
FIFTH REACTOR UNECONOMICAL
A day before the government decision, a British expert said at a press conference that Finland may end up footing a bigger-than-expected bill for the construction of the fifth reactor. He based his conclusions on experiences of the British nuclear industry in the liberalized electricity market. Although he recognized that the economic and technical record of the Finnish industry is better than that of the UK, there is no reason to think that costs in Finland would be dramatically lower. Researcher Steve Thomas of the University of Greenwich studied the attempts by the British industry to plan new reactors in a liberalized market. The privatization of the UK energy sector caused investors to view new nuclear reactors as high-risk investments. In the UK, prior to privatization, power plants of all types were required to make a 5 per cent real rate of return on capital and the construction costs were typically recovered over 30-40 years. In the current liberalized market, investments are typically required to make a 15 per cent real rate of return and the costs are recovered over 15 years. This will not be feasible for a nuclear reactor given the big investments in the construction. To realize such a pay back rate, electricity prices would have to double. Thomas added that most reactor designs now on offer are either outdated or have only been drafted on paper and still lack regulatory approval. So TVO might also have to pay hefty model development costs on top of the initial bid price.
The economics of new nuclear power plants and electricity liberalisation: Lessons for Finland from British experience, 15 January 2002; Reuters, 18 January 2002