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Real, nuclear-free energy solutions for Finland

04.10.2007 Lauri Myllyvirta

Opponents of nuclear power are frequently asked “what do you want instead then?”. We believe that this question is misleading in its phrasing. Major changes in consumption and production of energy are necessary to cut greenhouse gas emissions and decrease dependency on energy imports – regardless of whether new nuclear power is built. The key energy solutions of the future are energy efficiency and renewables, and nuclear power cannot form an alternative to them, only hinder the transition.

Scenarios published by the coalition of all notable environmental NGOs active in Finland1 and, later, WWF2, as well as the Finnish Green Party3, show that

  • The growth in energy consumption can be stopped with determined energy efficiency measures. This has already been achieved in most of Western Europe. In Sweden, electricity consumption of households is declining about 2 percent a year, while in Finland it is growing 2 percent a year.
  • The use of renewable energy, mainly biomass, wind and heat pumps, can be increased to cover more than 40 percent of energy use by 2020 – up from about 25 percent in 2006.
  • Together, these changes can achieve a reduction in GHG emissions to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and a significant decrease in dependency on energy imports. The scenarios assume either no additions to nuclear capacity or a partial phase out by 2020.

‘Virtaa tulevaisuuteen’ (Power for the future), the energy model created by WWF Finland, is particularly interesting. The work was overseen by Dr. Peter Lund, former chair of Advisory Group on Energy for the European Commission, professor in Helsinki University of Technology and Finland’s most prominent expert in sustainable energy solutions.

Examples of the solutions

  • Energy consumption of new buildings can be cut down by more than 70 percent. This, together with support for energy saving measures in existing buildings, would reduce energy consumption by the output of 7 nuclear power plants over a few decades.
  • Energy consumption of new electric appliances and cars can be halved.
  • More efficient electric motors and pumps can slash power consumption of heavy industry by up to a fourth.
  • Power generation in district industrial heat power plants can be doubled with modern gasification technology. This would expand power supply by two times the output of OL3.
  • A wind power output equal to that of the two reactors in Loviisa can be installed in less than a decade.4 This has been achieved in Germany in one year. Finland has next to no wind power at the moment even though there are an abundance of suitable sites and several producers of world class wind power plant components.
  • According to a study5 commissioned by the Finnish government, use of renewable biomass can be expanded by four times the output of OL3 by 2020. This excludes biogas, of which Finnish farms, wastewater treatment facilities and landfill sites can produce as much as the output of another nuclear power plant.
  • Sweden has installed heat pumps producing more than the output of OL3 during the last 15 years.6 A similar increase can be achieved in Finland.

    What is needed to make it happen?

    Energy efficiency

    • Major revision of building codes, cutting energy use of new buildings down to a fraction of present levels. Energy efficiency guidelines for renovation of existing buildings and funding to implement them.
    • Binding and gradually tightening energy efficiency standards for cars and households. The political processes to establish such standards are already in place within the EU. Car taxation strictly based on fuel mileage. Legal obligation for industries to carry out cost-efficient energy efficiency measures identified in energy auditions.
    • Economic incentives to improve efficiency – e.g. reduced allocation of emission credits or higher taxes. Finnish industry pays the lowest and households the second lowest electricity price in the EU. This is an obstacle to energy efficiency improvements, rendering many investments economically unfeasible. For example, some energy efficient fridges and other household appliances are not available to consumers in Finland because of the low tariffs.

    Renewable energy

    • Feed-in law for small scale biomass CHP, biogas, wind and solar. Finland is among the last EU countries that don’t have a decent support scheme for new renewable energy technologies in place. Consequently, Finland was ranked by Ernst&Young; as the least attractive target for renewable energy investors in the EU. This is an enormous disgrace for a country blessed with ample untapped renewable energy resources.
    • ‘Wind atlas’, comprehensive mapping of wind conditions in potential sites to facilitate planning and investments.

    Limitations of nuclear power

    We believe that the use of nuclear power is irresponsible because of the unsolved problem of nuclear waste, increased availability of nuclear weapons and the risk of accidents. There are, however, due limitations on the role that nuclear power could play in Finland even if we were willing to accept the risks.

    • Nuclear power can only produce electricity. Less than 10 percent of Finland’s GHG emissions originate in non-CHP (condensating) thermal electricity generation, so this is the theoretical limit for emission reductions. On average, 90 percent of electricity is generated from either CO2-free sources or combined heat and power.
    • There is clear evidence that past nuclear projects have hindered the development of renewable energy and combined heat and power. Investments in CHP stagnated when the existing 4 nuclear units were connected to grid as well as when the decision on OL3 was made. Wind power capacity is a fraction of what was projected before the decision on OL3. There simply is no room for a major expansion of both renewable energy and nuclear.
    • Because of high capital costs, nuclear plants operate always at full output, meaning that production cannot be adjusted according to demand. Hence, lots of adjustment capacity, meaning fossil-fuel fired condensating power, is needed.

    Graph 1. Development of Finland’s GHG emissions under reference scenario, with measures formulated in the 2005 climate strategy, and with additional measures to achieve a 30 % reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels. Based on a report ‘Climate Goal 2050’ published (in Finnish) by Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth, Finnish Association for Nature conservation and Finnish Nature League.

    Graph 2. Source as above.

    Graph 3. Commissioning of four nuclear power plants in 1977-1980 led to a stagnation in development of combined heat and power, favouring inefficient electric heating. The decision on OL3 is already having a similar but even stronger impact.

    Graph 4. The decision on OL3 was made at a time when new renewables, especially wind, had come of age and significant potential for growth was projected. The potentials have not been realized, largely because the power market is clogged by OL3.


    1 Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth, Finnish Association for Nature conservation and Finnish Nature League 2006. Climate Goal 2050.

    2 WWF Finland (2006). Virtaa tulevaisuuteen.

    3 Finnish Green Party 2005. Vihreä ilmasto- ja energiaohjelma.

    4 Pöyry Energy Oy (2007). Tuulivoimatavoitteiden toteutumisnäkymät Suomessa – Päivitetty tilannekatsaus 2007.

    5 Rintala J et al (2007). Arvio biomassan pitkän aikavälin hyödyntämismahdolisuuksista Suomessa.

    6 Swedish Energy Agency 2007. Swedish heat pumps capture 15 TWh renewable energy. Press release.