Meelis Münt: Half-way point to nuclear plant decision

Meelis Münt.
Meelis Münt. Source: Ministry of the Environment

Nuclear energy can ensure 24-hour power supply that is not dependent on the weather and its implementation in Estonia has been discussed for years. However, the decision requires serious consideration on which path we are only nearing the first milestone in September. The decision whether a nuclear plant could be a good fit for Estonia can only be made based on the [nuclear energy working group's] final report due in late 2023, Meelis Münt writes.

An Estonian company that wants to construct a nuclear power plant in Estonia (Fermi Energia – ed.) said last week that the plant could become operational as soon as in ten years. As mentioned by the company's spokesperson, this would require a decision to move forward with the project after the nuclear energy working group hands in its report.

One factor that encourages states and companies to invest in nuclear energy is the European Parliament's July 6 decision that classifies nuclear energy investments as green.

Momentous decision deserving of thorough analysis

We welcome the company's initiative and I am glad to be able to say that nuclear know-how is being created in Estonia. But the decision – whether to go down the path of nuclear energy as a matter of strategic importance – requires thorough analysis, consideration and public debate. For this purpose, Estonia created a nuclear energy working group where this work is currently being done.

The energy crisis is serious and important decisions cannot be postponed. That is why the nuclear energy group is working with an optimal time frame and is set to present the government and Riigikogu with its final report six months ahead of schedule in late 2023.

Adopting nuclear energy requires long-time commitment and the analysis that precedes the decision needs to be thorough. We need to study all aspects of going nuclear. How to develop public sector capacity in the field of nuclear power? Is society ready to accept a nuclear power plant in Estonia? Are there regions the residents of which would agree to a nuclear plant? The working group has to answer these questions to the best of its ability.

Potential locations for the nuclear plant and final nuclear fuel disposal sites, nuclear security and emergency preparedness situations are being analyzed. Mapping out the legal framework necessary for launching the nuclear program, updating the nuclear law bill and putting together a human resources strategy are next on the agenda. Possibilities for handling nuclear waste and ways of closing the plant in the future also need to be analyzed.

The Finns have made the most progress here and plan to launch the Onkalo permanent repository for nuclear waste at a depth of half a kilometer in 2025. Technologies for recycling used nuclear fuel are also being developed and most of it can be recycled and reused today. Several countries are developing reactors that can utilize used nuclear fuel that helps curb the need to mine uranium.

Concerning nuclear technology that could be a fit for Estonia, we are talking about small modular reactors roughly the size of the Auvere Power Plant with a single reactor output of no more than 300MW. A single nuclear plant can have several reactors, which any potential location needs to facilitate. Choice of nuclear technology depends on available and workable solutions at the time of planning.

The working group must also determine which international agreements Estonia should join and what kind of additional obligations becoming a nuclear state would entail. We need to know all of it for Estonia to make a carefully weighed decision on whether to launch a nuclear program.

Final call up to the Riigikogu

The working group will soon present the government with an interim report of its efforts. This will take place in September after which subsequent decisions will be made. Only once the working group's final report has been reviewed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and approved by the government can we say whether adopting nuclear energy could be a solution to help Estonia reach 2050 climate targets and ensure energy security.

The final decision on whether to construct a nuclear power plant in Estonia will be made by members of the Riigikogu. As implementing a nuclear program is a lengthy process, it must transcend different governments.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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