Finland opens Europe's first new nuclear reactor in 15 years

Long-delayed Olkiluoto 3 reactor is intended to boost the Nordic country's electricity supply

The Olkiluoto-3 nuclear reactor in Eurajoki, Finland, was initially meant to open in 2009. Reuters

Finland has opened Europe’s first new nuclear reactor in 15 years in a step which ministers say is “sorely needed” to boost electricity supply.

The opening of the Olkiluoto 3 reactor has been long delayed and comes at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is exacerbating a wider energy crisis in Europe.

It is also expected to contribute to Finland’s climate neutrality targets by increasing the share of zero-carbon electricity production in the Nordic country to 90 per cent.

The Finnish operator said the reactor had begun a four-month trial period in which it will supply electricity to the grid at only a fraction of its 1,600-megawatt capacity.

It will reach peak capacity in July when it will cover an estimated 14 per cent of Finland’s electricity demand, reducing the need for imports from Norway, Sweden and Russia, the operator said.

Plagued by technical problems that became the subject of lawsuits, it was initially due to open in 2009. Finnish media have reported the final cost was about 11 billion euros ($12 billion), almost three times the amount initially estimated.

The plant’s projected 60-year operating life could keep it online until at least the 2080s, the government said.

A reactor hall at the Finnish nuclear power plant during construction in 2015. AFP

Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia, is among the countries calling for Europe to end its reliance on oil and gas imports from its large neighbour.

Although there is consensus on the principle of this in the European Union, countries differ on whether nuclear power should be part of the solution, for both energy independence and tackling climate change.

Finland was among at least 10 EU governments which lobbied successfully for nuclear power to be classified as sustainable on a list of climate-friendly investments issued by the bloc.

France, one of the main champions of atomic energy in Europe, plans to build a new generation of reactors, while Britain also sees nuclear as part of the solution.

In the anti-nuclear camp, Germany is switching off its last three reactors this year and has essentially ruled out keeping them online to replace Russian gas. Austria is threatening a lawsuit over the EU’s green designation.

Finnish Economic Affairs Minister Mika Lintila said when he granted a permit to Olkiluoto 3 in December that the output from the reactor was “sorely needed by our electrifying society”.

Finland now has five nuclear reactors at two power plants located on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Olkiluoto 3 will run alongside two existing reactors at Eurajoki on Finland's west coast.

Updated: March 18, 2022, 11:06 AM