Finnish nuclear reactor shutdown not direct threat to Estonia's energy

The Olkiluoto nuclear power station in western Finland.
The Olkiluoto nuclear power station in western Finland. Source: ERR

Shutdown of a near-to-completion nuclear reactor in Finland would not directly, on its own, threaten Estonia's security of supply, though if compounded by other outages or shortages at the same time, the combined issues could lead to limited electricity consumption, such as two-hour shut offs, transmission system operator (TSO) Elering says.

The nuclear reactor at the Olkiluoto power plant, the third reactor at the site, has been under construction since 2005, and its original scheduled on-line start date of 2009 has been continually pushed back, due to various technical issues. It is now due to start work in December, as things stand.

With 1.6GW estimated capacity, the reactor's output would constitute less than 1 percent of the 182GW peak winter consumption in the Baltic Sea region.

Given the changed security and energy situation, Olkiluoto-3 going online this winter remains an desirable and important goal, however, Estonian grid distributor Elering says.

Company spokesperson Elo Ellermaa told ERR that: "Even though we are seeing that it might be possible to cover consumption in the region even during peak hours without [the reactor], there are still many other risks in this region that could materialize simultaneously, so Elering and the Estonian state have taken important steps to mitigate these risks."

Elermaa pointed to a government obligation imposed on state-owned generator Eesti Energia to ensure the availability of certain power generation capacities as an expectation upon it, Eesti Energia, as the "owner" of electric power, while additional fuel has been stockpiled at the Kiisa (south of Tallinn-ed.) emergency reserve power plants, an agreement on the exchange of additional reserves has been concluded with the TSO managers in the nordic countries, as has an agreement on the acquisition of electricity frequency reserves with Eesti Energia subsidiary Enefit Power.

"We are prepared and, if necessary, also ready for an emergency de-synchronization from the Russian and Belarusian electricity system," Elermaa added.

Desynchronization from the Russian Federation grid and synchonization with that of the "mainland" EU is in any case in-progress, due for completion in 2024, but the invasion of Ukraine this year has led to calls for readiness for this ahead of time.

Ellermaa also stated that, nevertheless, according to analysis of the system capacity of the Baltic Sea region countries, risks of security of electricity supply have risen in the region. "Due to the combined effect of the war, fuel supplies to power stations, low water levels in reservoirs and the aging of some power plants, a difficult winter awaits us in the energy sector," she said.

Estonia has no nuclear power station though calls for the building of a small reactor have long been made; high natural gas prices and other economic factors have seen some power stations switch back to oil shale as a fuel for generation.

The Baltic Sea countries together have enough known production capacity to cover the peak electricity consumption in a "very cold" winter with electricity, but reserves are small and risks of shortages higher; Elermaa put the generation capacity in peak winter consumption periods at 196GWh, 8 percent (14GWh) more than an average winter consumption and just 5 percent higher (5GWh) more than that of a "cold" winter.

Electricity transmission lines. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Elering is closely cooperating with TSOs in the friendly neighboring countries, Elemraa added, a stance echoed by Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications spokesperson Kadri Laube, who told ERR that: "We are not on our own in this energy crisis; other European countries are also on heightened alert. There is strong cooperation between these countries, both between ministries and TSOs. It is vital to be ready for the possible realization of all risks, and it is also important to be ready for this in relation to domestic and commercial consumers, also."

This made: "The to-market launch of Olkiluoto 3 this winter all the more important, since every additional megawatt in the region's electricity system helps mitigate risks," Laube said, adding that she was pleased to see domestic and commercial consumers' efforts so far to make savings on energy consumption even as state measures have provided support for electricity, natural gas and district heating bills to both homes and small businesses, through the autumn and winter and, in the case of the universal electricity service, for the next few years.

Elermaa noted that of most importance was that multiple major outages did not happen at the same time – for instance if the still-offline Olkiluoto-3 reactor halted production suddenly for whatever reason, this would put the rest of the regional system under great stress as 1.6GW, approximately, of lost production would have to be found from elsewhere.

Fingrid, Finland's counterpart to elering, has planned for such eventualities, even accidents, she said, while agreements between Finland and Sweden on transmission and the use of reserves would reduce that shortfall to around 300MW, with day-on-day market trading on the electricity marketplace accounting for the rest.

Elering and network maintenance firm Elektrilevi have in conjunction also looked at a scenario whereby consumption should be limited by intentional shut downs, for instance that mentioned by the economics ministry in September.

Substations could be limited to 200MW and switched off in rotation at two-hour intervals, for instance, Elermaa said.

Shutdowns of the Olkiluoto reactor and the following measures such as those noted above would undoubtedly lead to a rise in the price of electricity, just in terms of pure demand and supply, however.

Teollisuuden Voima (TVO), the company managing the plant, recently announced that the reactor will start operating at full capacity at the end of December. The latest glitch concerned water pumps.

The reactor has a capacity of 1,600MW (1.6GW), according to recent data from the Baltic Sea countries, while the region's average winter peak consumption is 182GW.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Elering, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications

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