Environment ministry: If Estonia gets nuclear power plant, not before 2035 ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Location of nuclear power plants in the Baltic Sea region.
Location of nuclear power plants in the Baltic Sea region. Source: ERR

Estonia's first nuclear power plant would not start operating before 2035, according to a memorandum from the Ministry of the Environment (Keskkonnaministeerium), which the government will discuss later this summer.

The memorandum "Possibilities for the Deployment of Nuclear Energy in Estonia" ("Tuumaenergia kasutuselevõtmise võimalused Eestis") describes a process of at which would take at least 15 years which would follow the government agreeing to a nuclear power plant. Estonia is starting this process almost from scratch.

The first proposal of the memorandum signed by Minister of the Environment Rene Koka calls for the establishment of an inter-ministerial working group on nuclear energy in order to form publicly agreed positions on the possibility of introducing nuclear energy in Estonia.

The European Commission has already agreed to fund a study to find the best climate-neutral electricity generation solution for Estonia and the activities necessary to achieve it. One of the alternatives to the existing oil shale is the introduction of nuclear energy.

The memorandum states it is important to determine society's support for nuclear energy as soon as possible and to avoid problems caused by poor communication. Holding a referendum on this issue should also be discussed.

Conditionally, small modular reactors - up to 300 MW - belonging to either generation III + or IV are considered suitable for Estonia. The cost of building a reactor could be around € 1.1 billion, without labor, contracts and additional costs. 

The memorandum suggests private investors could be involved in financing the plant, which would keep public investment in the construction and operation of the plant as low as possible.

It also acknowledges that at present Estonia does not have the necessary legal framework for the construction of nuclear power plants, competent authorities or sectoral experts.

If the government does decide in favor of building a nuclear power plant, it means training specialists abroad, but also creating training competence in Estonia. It would create new tasks and skills for emergency workers and doctors as well as the need to build capacity for used fuel storage and radioactive waste management.

The memorandum lists the main risks and describes possibilities to mitigate them. These include problems with the introduction of new technology, the possibility of an emergency, concerns about the production and supply of nuclear fuel, financial and nuclear liability, radioactive waste management, lack of know-how and specialists, public involvement and communication.

In the latter case, the memorandum states diplomatically, without recalling the failed plan to build a pulp mill near the Emajõgi river in Tartu County several years ago, that special attention needs to be paid to preparing a national plan and strategic environmental assessment so that a knowledge-based discussion can take place.

Finally, there are political risks. 

If a referendum is held on the construction of a nuclear power plant and if the public vote against it, the ability to initiative nuclear energy projects in Estonia will be ruled out for a very long time, and Estonia's energy policy may change with the change of government,

But there is also a broader, international view that Estonia's neighbors, such as Sweden and Lithuania, who have themselves decided to abandon nuclear energy, or Russia, who may not want a nuclear power plant built in Estonia for geopolitical reasons if US technology is introduced.

A dialogue with neighboring countries on the construction of a nuclear power plant be initiated as early as possible and the reasons for Estonia's decision must be clear, the memorandum also recommends. 

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), there are 450 nuclear reactors in the world, which produce 10 percent of the world's electricity and 25 percent in the EU. The closest nuclear power plants to Estonia are in Finland and Russia. Another 53 nuclear reactors are currently being built. There are 30 nuclear-producing countries, and 28 are considering or are already entering a more active planning phase.

Estonia last held discussions about building a nuclear power plant about 10 years ago, when the Baltic states jointly considered building a nuclear power plant in Lithuania. However, there was no support for a joint project at the time. 

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Editor: Helen Wright

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