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Ossinovski: Risks of going nuclear high and the plant not strictly necessary

Jevgeni Ossinovski.
Jevgeni Ossinovski. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Our worst-case scenario would be suspending Estonia's sustainability efforts in anticipation of a nuclear power plant, Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) writes.

There is no doubt that nuclear energy has a crucial role to play in addressing climate change. However, nuclear power plants could be the preferable option in countries with high population density, high energy demand and limited land for renewable energy development.

A very different question is whether Estonia needs a nuclear power plant. We lack the skills, regulations, civil protection and monitoring systems, or even a waste disposal site, for building and operating a nuclear power plant. For all of these reasons, developing a nuclear facility carries significant risks and societal costs that would fall on future generations.

The report of the [Estonian] nuclear working group suggests that it is possible to build a nuclear power plant in Estonia, which is not surprising. Also, the report suggests ways to minimize some of the risks involved, but on several critical topics, such as the final disposal of nuclear waste, it provides little insight and merely states that a waste disposal solution will be eventually developed, which apparently does not yet exist.

Unfortunately, the report also fails to address the question, which is critical to Social Democrats: Is it unavoidable that Estonia needs a nuclear power plant, considering the long-term risks and consequences?

The board of the Social Democrats adopted the position that the answer to this question was "no" as early as 2021. There are other alternative approaches that could speed up the realization of our energy goals, and these are affordable, environmentally sustainable and reliable energy sources.

At the Social Democrats' insistence, a goal of generating 100 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030 has become law. The administration is aiming to establish the necessary regulatory structure to double renewable energy generation in the coming years.

This will give us a surplus of energy for over half the year, which we should aim to store for periods when there is no wind and little sun, or export. So we'll be supported by fast-growing storage capacity (the soon-to-be-built Paldiski hydropump and battery storage), better consumption management and links to neighboring nations where we can also get electricity in cases of shortages for most of the remaining hours.

Regardless of the [green] technology chosen, it is critical to be prepared for situations such as prolonged power outages throughout the region, power plant failures or "accidental" anchors dragging over our underwater infrastructure. So it is sensible to maintain some reserve capacities, currently, these are oil shale boilers. Small quantities of these facilities could serve us well for years to come.

Diversifying our managed capacity also helps to ensure supply security and climate goals. One example is the construction of a biogas plant, for which Eesti Energia is now preparing an investment plan.

The development of renewables, storage facilities, consumption management, and international trade will give us what we need: economical, climate-friendly and secure electricity under normal grid conditions, while we also have sufficient reserve capacity for extreme cases.

This plan consists of many diverse solutions that are already widespread around the world, unlike the small reactors promoted by [Estonia's nuclear power plant] developers, which are not operational anywhere in the world yet. Moreover, experience elsewhere with nuclear power plants shows that many construction projects are delayed, which often raises costs exponentially or bankrupts developers.

No one can yet say with certainty whether electricity will ever be generated from this facility or what the market price of this electricity will be for the end consumer and for society at large, taking into account the social costs of operating a nuclear power plant.

Our worst-case scenario would be suspending Estonia's sustainability efforts in anticipation of a nuclear power plant. If the plant is not built in 10 years due to public opposition, a political decision, the immaturity of [small modular reactor] technology, or a lack of investment (all of which are real risks), we will be facing a sinkhole and the National Audit Office once again will have to admit that decision-makers shortchanged the Estonian people.

Should new circumstances emerge that indicate Estonia is incapable of achieving its energy policy goals without a nuclear power plant, we will be ready to reassess our position. So far, the nuclear energy working group failed to address this issue in its report.


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Editor: Kaupo Meiel, Kristina Kersa

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