Europe’s largest nuclear plant starts operations in Finland

The largest nuclear reactor in Europe, Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 (OL3), began operating over the weekend, according to its operator.

OL3’s operator Teollisuuden Voima (TVO), which is owned by Finnish utility Fortum and a consortium of energy and industrial companies, has said the unit is expected to meet around 14% of Finland’s electricity demand, reducing the need for imports from Sweden and Norway.

The new reactor is expected to produce for at least 60 years, TVO said in a statement after completing the transition from testing to regular output.

“The production of Olkiluoto 3 stabilises the price of electricity and plays an important role in the Finnish green transition,” TVO CEO Jarmo Tanhua said.

Construction of the 1.6 gigawatt (GW) reactor, Finland’s first new nuclear plant in more than four decades and Europe’s first in 16 years, began in 2005. The plant was originally due to open four years later, but is understood to have been set back over the years by a number of technical issues.

Finland’s move comes in the same weekend that Germany is closing operations on its last three reactors.

On the banks of the Neckar River, not far from Stuttgart in south Germany, the nuclear power plant in Baden-Württemberg has now closed. The same applies further east for the Bavarian Isar 2 complex and the Emsland complex, at the other end of the country, not far from the Dutch border.

The country began phasing out nuclear power more than 20 years ago – but plans were escalated following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Subsequent anti-nuclear demonstrations in Germany led then chancellor Angela Merkel to press ahead with plans to shut down all of Germany’s remaining nuclear power by 2022.

According to the World Nuclear Organisation, until March 2011 Germany obtained one-quarter of its electricity from nuclear energy, using 17 reactors. The remaining three reactors provide about 6% of the country’s electricity, while over one-quarter of its electricity comes from coal, the majority of that from lignite.

The Russia-Ukraine war prompted a reappraisal of the original plan to close the country’s three remaining reactors at the end of 2022. The German coalition government, following a ‘stress test’ conducted by the country’s power grid transmission operators, agreed in September 2022 to keep Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim 2 on standby until mid-April 2023.

However, while Germany is – for the moment – turning its back on nuclear power, other countries including France, the UK and Sweden are now resolutely committing to the power source given their need for greater energy independence in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war and a realisation that too many countries across the continent had become over reliant on Russian gas imports.