Delays over safety clearance, building permit for Fennovoima nuclear project in Finland

Workmen survey the site of the Hanhikivi 1 nuclear reactor. (Arto Veräjänkorva/Yle)
The Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority STUK will not deliver a safety assessment and related building permit for the Fennovoima nuclear project slated for Pyhäjoki in northwest Finland this year. According to the daily Kaleva, the nuclear watchdog has said that the evaluation and permit will be delayed by one year to the end of 2018.

Finland’s nuclear safety watchdog STUK will not provide a safety assessment and building permit this year for the Fennovoima nuclear power plant to be built by Russian state-owned nuclear contractor Rosatom in northwest Finland, reports the daily Kaleva. Rosatom also owns 34 percent of the venture.

Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs originally hoped that STUK would be able to provide the clearances this year. However the authority now says that it won’t be able to deliver them before the end of 2018. It noted that completing the safety assessment depends on factors such as Fennovoima’s ability to update information about the project’s delivery timetable. STUK’s ability to furnish the approvals will also depend on the adequacy and comprehensiveness of the information provided.

Fennovoima communications chief Maira Kettunen said that the ministry already knew last year that the permits would not be delivered according to the hoped-for schedule.

In spite of the delay, Fennovoima has estimated that it will still receive a building permit for the Pyhäjoki plant by the end of 2018 as originally targeted.

“We have had more planners from our Russian partner coming to Helsinki, which eases and streamlines the preparation of the material,” Kettunen said.

Investor haemorrhage

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Helsinki city council launched moves to disconnect Vantaa Energy – in which it owns 40 percent of shares — from the Fennovoima nuclear power plant. However, Vantaa Energy chief executive Pertti Laukkanen said that the city of Vantaa, which owns the remaining 60 percent of the power company, is not likely to support selling off its holdings in the project.

A number of other Finnish investors have also bailed on the project over the years. The German-based power behemoth E.ON as well as duopolist retailer S Group both shed their stake in the project in 2012. Later in 2013, 15 members of the power consortium Voimaosakeyhtiö SF pulled out of the venture, while a subsidiary of the other duopolist retailer K Group left in 2014. Meanwhile local dairy giant Valio exited in 2015 during a rocky period caused by losses over western sanctions applied against Russia, one of its main markets.

Financing controversy

The Fennovoima nuclear power plant has faced a rocky road since it received a decision-in-principle for construction during the administration of ex-PM Matti Vanhanen back in 2010. The contentious project also saw the departure of the Green Party from Alexander Stubb’s coalition government in 2014, when it decided to proceed with the proposed plant.

The project also stirred up controversy over financing arrangements when a murky Croatian firm – later found to be a front for Russian investors — emerged as a backer to help Fennovoima make up the 60-percent domestic- EU ownership required by the Finnish government. There was also speculation that state energy giant Fortum had been pressured to come forward as an investor following initial resistance to the project.

The project has faced opposition from environmentalists in Finland and Sweden and has also come under intense scrutiny over concerns about Finland’s energy dependence on Russia.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Floating nuclear power stations for Arctic?, Radio Canada International

Finland: Posiva Solutions to assist Fennovoima in nuclear waste disposal, Yle News

Norway: Norway’s foreign minister to visit Russian nuclear waste dump, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Breaking the ice with loads of Russian nuclear waste, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Northern Sweden cities on shortlist for battery gigafactory, Radio Sweden

United States: For first time, Alaska reveals recipients of cash credits for oil and gas activity, Alaska Dispatch News

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