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Minister: Parliament should decide whether to go with nuclear power in Estonia

3D modelling of the exterior of the plant in Fermi Energia's technology portfolio.
3D modelling of the exterior of the plant in Fermi Energia's technology portfolio. Source: Fermi Energia

The main question of the nuclear energy debate in Estonia is whether it would benefit the country in the long term, while any decisions of whether to add nuclear to the energy portfolio should be made by the parliament, Minister of Climate Kristen Michal said.

At the end of last year, the national nuclear energy task force published a report recommending the establishment of a nuclear power plant in Estonia, as the adoption of nuclear energy would support the country in achieving its climate objectives, ensuring supply security and stabilizing the energy system.

Climate Minister Kristen Michal (Reform) told ERR that the main point in the debate over building a nuclear power plant is whether Estonia could benefit from such production here, what it would add, and if there are benefits, what new industry and services would be associated with it.

Michal could not say exactly when the nuclear energy report might be discussed in the government, but mentioned that he had discussed it with Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and it could happen in the coming weeks, depending on the topics and agenda in the cabinet.

"In the government, I personally think it would be sensible to start with an introduction of the matter /.../. Then we could turn to the parliament, as in a parliamentary republic, it should be the parliament's decision. The parliament would then take an appropriate stance on what the role of nuclear energy should be in our energy portfolio, and that would be the desirable outcome," Michal said.

The Social Democrats demand the climate minister present the government with a broader vision of Estonia's energy for the coming decades before the nuclear power plant debate can start. According to Michal, a bigger picture of energy has been presented to the government, and decisions need to be made on what will be the different manageable capacities in the future, storage options and how to ensure stability after desynchronizing from Russia.

The authors of the nuclear energy report stated at its presentation that a nuclear power plant would bring revenues to the state budget, with annual earnings ranging from €5.5 million to €19 million during the operational phase. According to Michal, this is a conservative scenario, representing the minimum expected revenue, accounting only for tax revenues, state fees and local government toleration fees.

However, the indirect revenues associated with the establishment of the nuclear power plant, such as potential investments through the addition of energy-intensive industries in the region, have not been considered.

"Our goal should not be just to establish various facilities or generation in energy /.../, but the next objective for Estonia's economic development is to create new export-capable production and services with higher added value, enabling us all to achieve a better standard of living with a smaller environmental footprint."

Last week, Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) claimed that the nuclear energy report did not take into account costs amounting to €100 million related to establishing rescue capabilities and other similar expenses. However, Michal stated that the task force's report lists a cost estimate of €54 million, which was based on input from the Ministry of the Interior.

"The ministry's own input indicated that this amount could be significantly smaller, as such medium and small reactors may not require the same level of technical capability as needed for emergencies at large nuclear power plants," Michal remarked.

According to him, constructing a nuclear power plant does not necessarily mean that it will displace cheaper renewable energy capacity from the market, as one does not necessarily exclude the other, and the energy portfolio could accommodate all options.

"But this comes with the caveat that we still need new manufacturing and consumers who can use this clean energy and base their export capacity on it. This is actually the key to the entire package," Michal said. "The question is, where will these consumers come from."

Asked whether he believes that a decision on nuclear energy can be made by the current coalition of the Reform Party, SDE, and Eesti 200, considering SDE's skepticism, Michal replied that it is certainly possible to present the nuclear energy report [to the government], acquire more knowledge and update the data if necessary.

"Legislation, of course, cannot be created if one side to the coalition is resolutely against it. But I have faith and trust that the Social Democrats will still read and process the material and that we'll be able to have a debate based on that. Because, if it is not possible to have a knowledge-based debate in this world, what use is knowledge to begin with?"

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Editor: Arp Müller, Karin Koppel, Marcus Turovski

Source: "Uudis+"

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