This is my translation of a statement made by four Finnish Green party (Green League) candidates today, calling for the use of both nuclear power and renewables to combat climate change. It illustrates quite nicely how more and more thoughtful people are beginning to accept what should be, in my opinion, quite obvious: it’s well past time we had the luxury of choosing only low-carbon power sources we like. Note though that this is the opinion of these four party members, not an official recommendation. Some notes have been added to provide context for those who, for some reason, don’t follow closely the Finnish energy policies. Any mistakes in translation are my own.
A green energy vision acknowledges the facts
The Finnish Green party is well known for its history of strict opposition to nuclear power. On the other hand, the party also strictly enforces the principles of open discussion. Nuclear power is a topic that divides opinions very strongly, but it is not an issue that would split the party. Even within the party, nuclear power is at the end a question of opinions, not of values. The three guiding values of the party are responsibility for the environment and the future, freedom for all, and caring for other people. These are loose and often ambiguous values. On the other hand, the newly accepted strategy of the Green party demands that the party “Reduces … the demands for unanimity – both in relation to other party members and in relations with potential partners.” As such, there exists a broad diversity of opinions, and an open discussion.
While precise and recent statistics are lacking, the party veteran Osmo Soininvaara estimated in 2012 that approximately one third of the party members could accept nuclear power, at least under some conditions. Current acceptance is not known, but for example, the latest Green energy vision does not demand the closure of the currently operating Finnish nuclear power plants. [Note: Four reactors dating from late 1970s and early 1980s currently provide about one third of our electricity and about 18% of primary energy] In the Green party political platform, nuclear power is handled as follows: “The role of expensive and old-fashioned nuclear power in Finland’s energy supply shouldn’t be increased. Retiring capacity should be replaced with renewable energy sources.” Our interpretation is that this platform does not necessarily rule out modern and possibly more economical nuclear technologies, such as small modular reactors. [Note: In the link, another Green party candidate, the chairman of the Greens’ Climate and Energy committee Antti van Wonterghem, proposes a small modular reactor to provide heat and power to the city of Kotka.]
The party has been strictly negative regarding the Fennovoima nuclear power plant under construction, but this particular project divides opinions even among those Greens who support nuclear power. The project involves undeniable geopolitical and economic risks. [Note: The Fennovoima plant, scheduled to be online by 2025, is to be built by the Russian state company Rosatom, which will also hold a 34% share in it and provide financing to the rest of the owners. In the current geopolitical situation, the project certainly increases the risks of undesirable Russian influence in Finnish affairs.]
The Finnish Government’s current bioenergy policy is nevertheless a disaster for both the climate and the Finnish nature. Increasing wood harvests will destroy our valuable forests without clear climate benefits: wood chips that are burned emit their carbon dioxide to the atmosphere right away, while similar quantity of carbon will be sequestered in newly grown forest only 50 years later. We need to get rid of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now, not 50 years hence. Currently, it is completely clear that getting rid of fossil fuels is the most important goal. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power work very well, up to a point, but the practical limits of these sources will be reached surprisingly quickly. For example, wind power plants require large land areas and considerable quantities of raw materials. Solar power, on the other hand, would demand electricity storage systems that would, again, demand huge quantities of raw materials. Relying solely on renewables would demand, among other things, a lot more mining activity. All energy sources have their drawbacks from the environmental point of view.
The German Energiewende serves as a sad example of what can happen if ideology trumps reality. The German decision to shutter their nuclear plants has led to renewable energy replacing nuclear power, not fossil fuels. As a result, emissions have been reduced only marginally. In Finland, the Greens have quietly but firmly stayed on a different course from the Germans, and therefore, as Olkiluoto 3 nuclear power plant becomes operational [in 2018, it is hoped], we have a real opportunity to produce the most of our electricity with very low carbon dioxide emissions – behind the schedule and with a high price tag, but nevertheless cleanly. For us, heating and transportation pose larger challenges. Biodiesel [currently, there is much talk about biodiesel in Finland] is not a sustainable solution on a large scale. Electric cars are more sustainable, but require very drastic increases in electricity supply. For this, it is hard to see alternatives to building more nuclear power.
We are already too late in our efforts to stop climate change, and we no longer have the luxury of choosing between nuclear power and renewables. Many propose that we should put our limited resources to developing renewables, rather than nuclear power. This opinion is problematic however, as it assumes that climate change can be stopped only with those limited resources. For all practical purposes, this is not the case. Unless we spend a lot more money in all clean energy sources, we are certain to be doomed. This is caused above all by the fact that the world’s energy demand grows rapidly as the living standards in developing countries increase. Therefore, it is not enough for us to replace our coal power plants with other solutions. Someone has to replace also the coal plants that are otherwise inevitably built in China and India, for example. Therefore, in practice our starting point must be that we increase the resources available for both nuclear power and for renewable energy sources. Views like these are still within a minority in the Greens, but the acceptance for an open discussion of these views is broadening.
Jakke Mäkelä (vice-chairman of Viite, the science and technology subgroup within the Finnish Green party)
Green party candidates in the municipal elections in Turku, and members of Viite.
[Note, again, that this is the opinion of the signatories, not an official recommendation of the Viite or the Finnish Greens.]