Nuclear energy firm: Northeastern Estonian plant could be online in 2032

Kunda, on the north Estonian coast, is one potential site for a proposed nuclear reactor. The large volumes of water required for the process make coastal areas the likely zones.
Kunda, on the north Estonian coast, is one potential site for a proposed nuclear reactor. The large volumes of water required for the process make coastal areas the likely zones. Source: Fermi Energia

A nuclear power plant could be on-line and functioning in northeastern Estonia a decade from now, according to one private sector nuclear energy firm. The plant would likely be the new small nuclear reactors (SMR) type, which are currently under development in other parts of the world – none are as yet on-line.

While the company, Fermi, had announced it was filing an application plan last year, the energy crisis last autumn and winter and longer-term fears about energy issues raised by the need to de-couple from Russian fossil fuel supply have made the issue more pressing, while an EU Parliament vote on Wednesday resulted in some types of nuclear energy generation remaining within the definition of sustainable.

Kalev Kallemets, head of Fermi Energia, added that the plant would not require state support for its construction, saying: "If the decisions are made, it will get done."

"If high-quality preliminary work and information can be conducted to make these decisions, if the market conditions remain as they are today, then the first reactor of its type will be nicely constructed, as today the processes are moving in Great Britain, Canada and the U.S. and the financing prospects are as positive, following [Wednesday's] decision by the European Parliament," adding that private investment in the company will give a "well over 50 percent" likelihood that the station would be on-line by or in 2032.

One reactor would cost a billion euros to construct, while up to four could be built, Kallemets said.

"Looking at today's [energy] deficit in the Baltics, we need somewhere around 1,000 MW capacity today, while we have a deficit in any weather conditions, which rises the price of electricity," he went on. The weather statement refers to the dependence upon conditions wind turbines and solar panels have.

"We need four 300-MW units in total. In the case of the fourth of these, we are seriously looking at producing on a large scale, in order to produce large amounts of hydrogen from that. In addition to electricity, fertilizer production also needs to be decarbonized on a large scale in Europe, and this is a very large market."

Fermi has so far involved €3.9 million towards the development of the project, but investor interest is growing, Kallemets said.

The small and compact nature of Estonia and rapid decision making processes lend themselves to the project's realization as well, he said.

As to the nuclear waste, there were two possible solutions, Kallemets added – burying in deep boreholes or sending to reprocessing plants in France.

In the first case, while nuclear waste in Finland and Sweden is deposited at a depth of 450 meters, in Estonia, Kallemets said, the depth would nbeed to be around three times this, although preliminary drilling so far has only been done down to a depth of 900m.

The project also awaits a national decision on whether to pursue nuclear energy or other means of decarbonization, all-year round, for instance in renewables.

As to potential location, western Estonia is off the table, including because it is the region earmaked for off-shore wind farms, making northern Estonia the better option and, given its industrial heritage, northeastern Estonia (Ida-Viru and Lääne-Viru counties) the most preferable.

Consultations with local residence before initiating the requisite special plan would also be needed, he said.

Work towards this is likely to start in 2024-2025 in Canada and the U.K., he added, with the former of these set to go online by or in 2028.

EU climate goals and the decoupling from fossil fuels energy dependency by the 2030s was also a factor, he said.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) earlier this year made statements which suggested a nuclear power station in Estonia might be on the cards.

Public opinion and certainly local government opinion seems to have been more in favor than against the idea, so far.

Following its January 2021 announcement that it was filing an SMR planning application, Fermis referenced Kaberneeme, close to Tallinn, as well as Kunda, Lääne-Viru County, plus three different sites in Lüganuse municipality, Ida-Viru County, as potential sites for the plant.

A 300 MW plant would provide about 20 percent of Estonia's daytime electricity needs, rising to 25 percent at nighttime, it was reported at the time.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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