Over 100 Finnish election candidates – Greens included – call for small reactors for district heating

More than hundred candidates in the upcoming municipal elections in Finland have signed a statement calling for Finnish cities to explore the possibilities of using small nuclear reactors to provide district heating. Interestingly, among the signatories are significant numbers of Green party candidates.

District heat is used widely in Finnish urban areas. The existing system, based mostly on coal, gas, peat and biomass, needs to be overhauled in order to reduce Finland’s carbon dioxide emissions. Existing plans to replace fossil fuels and peat rely mostly on biomass. However, these plans are questioned increasingly often, both because carbon dioxide emissions of biomass are likely to be significantly higher than hitherto assumed, and because there are increasing doubts about the environmental impacts of increased logging.

Both in Finland and in Sweden, small reactors were seriously considered as a heat source until mid-1980s. These studies culminated in detailed plans for so-called SECURE (Safe and Environmentally Clean Urban REactor) unit, a simple and safe 200 MWt “water heater” that would have been installed in a cave excavated in the bedrock under Helsinki. However, decreasing gas prices and the Chernobyl accident derailed the plans. It remains to be seen whether the proposal, which I’ve translated below, will result to a resurgence of interest in SECURE-like designs – and which nuclear startup is the first to contact the candidates?

The original statement, and the list of signatories by municipality, can be found here. You may also be interested in a previous statement by four Finnish Green party candidates calling for support for both renewables and nuclear energy.

Statement by Finnish municipal election candidates:

Nuclear district heating should be included as an option in urban energy strategies

Climate change has continued to break the temperature and ice loss records. In the upcoming municipal elections [April 9, 2017] we have the opportunity of influencing greenhouse gas emissions from our cities. For example, more than half of all emissions in Helsinki are caused by district heat that is largely generated by burning coal.

Plans to replace coal with wood pellets do not reduce emissions enough. In addition, increasing wood harvests have disastrous environmental consequences.

However, a very low-carbon source of heat exist: nuclear power. New generation of mass produced small reactors are the conceptual opposites of massive prototype plants such as Olkiluoto 3. Reactors are factory-built and transported to the site, speeding up construction. They can also be passively safe, shutting themselves safely down even if all safety systems fail.

The undersigned municipal election candidates desire that the possibilities for using nuclear energy in district heating are explored. A study of practical solutions for Finnish cities can then be conducted as a joint project of participating cities.

For more information, contact

Petrus Pennanen, +358 40 502 0355, petrus.pennanen@piraattipuolue.fi

Tea Törmänen, +358 45 615 7432, tea.tormanen@helsinki.fi

Antti van Wonterghem, +358 50 544 7187, vanwonterghem.antti@gmail.com

[As of 16 March 2017, the statement has been signed by more than 100 candidates from most of the major parties, including the Greens. The statement is still open for additional signatories.]

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About J. M. Korhonen

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23 Responses to Over 100 Finnish election candidates – Greens included – call for small reactors for district heating

  1. This is very interesting. Do you have any idea what the cost per kWh heat would be compared to district heating with bio energy. A large part of the nuclear plant is removed, turbine hall etc. I guess that would lower costs.

    I also wonder how would it compare with non-fossil electricity and heat pumps.

    • There isn’t any hard data – that’s one big reason they’re calling for a study.

      A dedicated “water heater” would obviously be cheaper, but by how much, I can’t say. There are no vendors for heater reactors right now, so that’s another complication.

      I’m hoping that this initiative leads to a study of some sort, but even that is far from certain. It’s nevertheless good that the option is discussed, as those other options for district heat haven’t really panned out. (For example: seawater heat pumps were the big thing couple years ago – now it turns out that at least in Helsinki, the seawater’s temperature isn’t suitable for most of the year as the sea is too shallow.)

  2. kitemansa says:

    I would hope they investigate the use of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) which can be a good use of a molten salt reactor with closed cycle brayton engines.

  3. It certainly runs counter to the regulatory history we’ve seen over the past decades. I think one of the reasons that individual reactor design have targeted ever increasing unit sizes is that the regulatory burden for nuclear power, whatever the use, is really heavy.

    If each unit must carry a heavy bureaucratic burden, be it for good or bad reasons, it makes sense to make ever larger units or to abandon the technology. Smallish research reactors are pretty safe: the amount of water present in general guarantees there can be no core fusion. Yet many old ones face closure following Fukushima.

    For the costs to be bearable, the regulatory burden would have to be lightened a lot. And it’s not just a finnish question even if only the Finns want to go this way, it’s probably a European one too.

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  7. jfon says:

    Finland is sometimes cited as a good example of a well-run small country by the New Zealand Labour party, which, in opposition, has forged a campaign agreement with the Green party. Both tend to be reflexively anti-nuclear, since the days of French atom bomb testing and American involvement in Vietnam.
    Nearly 80% of our electricity here is already renewable, mostly hydro, with geothermal and some wind, but an increasing amount of coal is being burnt in dairy factories, to evaporate milk for export as milk powder. There was a dairy factory run on nuclear in Wisconsin, for eighteen years from the late sixties,
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Crosse_Boiling_Water_Reactor
    La Crosse was not considered an economic success, but the combined heat and power nuclear system at Bilibino in Siberia has been powering that town of 5,000 people for over forty years, and will be replaced by a new floating nuclear power plant in 2019.

    • From energy and climate change point of view, New Zealand has the enviable position of having immense (relative to size) hydropower resources. If hydro is available and either built already or can be built with relatively small environmental impacts, I’d prefer that over nuclear – but mostly because it’s usually easier to get hydro built than nuclear. (My dream would be to eventually replace dams with other energy sources and let rivers run their course – but climate change is too urgent a threat for now.)

      Norway is in a similar position and, like New Zealand, may have little need for nuclear power in the immediate future at least.

      However, the rest of us will either have to learn to build mountains and rivers, or nuclear power plants. The latter seems to be quite a bit easier.

      • jfon says:

        ‘My dream would be to eventually replace dams with other energy sources and let rivers run their course – but climate change is too urgent a threat for now.’
        I’d back that – my first political action, while still at school. was collecting signatures against the flooding of Lake Manapouri. Since then, hydro as a percenatage of our power has trended down from about 90% to about 50%

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