More than 40 Years of Nuclear in Finland
The construction of the first reactors in Finland started early 1970s. The first reactor (Loviisa 1) started operation in 1977 and the second one (Olkiluoto 1) in 1978. The second units in Loviisa and Olkiluoto followed in 1981 and 1980, respectively.
The Finnish power companies tried to get permission to build a new reactor unit in 1980s and 1990s. These attempts failed in 1980s (due to Chernobyl) and 1990s (no political support) but finally succeeded in 2002, when TVO got a positive decision from the parliament for Olkiluoto 3. Construction of OL3 started in 2005 when TVO obtained the construction license. The following license to build a new nuclear power plant in Finland went to Fennovoima's Hanhikivi site which received political acceptance in 2010 and a construction license application was submitted in 2015.
In the radioactive waste management area, repositories for low and intermediate level waste were built in 1990's at the NPP sites in Loviisa and Olkiluoto. They have been operated by the power companies ever since. Spent fuel disposal project started in 1980s by TVO. Fortum joined the project after the export of spent fuel from Loviisa NPP to Russia was terminated in 1990s. A joint company called Posiva was established by TVO and Fortum in 1995. A site for spent fuel repository was selected around 2000 and a construction license application was filed in 2012. The construction license for spent fuel repository was granted in November 2015. The spent fuel repository is expected to start operation in early 2020s.
The main research organization in Finland is VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, which also operated the only research reactor in Finland (FiR1). FiR1 was closed a couple of years ago and it is now in the decommissioning process. A new Nuclear Technology House is under construction at VTT, which will improve the laboratory capabilities of VTT's nuclear research teams e.g. in material research area.
The main Universities providing education in nuclear engineering are Aalto University in Espoo (e.g. in technical physics), Helsinki University (e.g. in radiochemistry) and Lappeenranta University (e.g. nuclear engineering and experimental reactor thermal hydraulics).
The development of the necessary knowledge base for utilities, the regulator, universities and research centers was a challenge when the nuclear program started in Finland in 1970s. Similar challenges have been faced during the last years, due to the need for new experts in the new NPP projects and due to the retirements of the experts who started their career in 1970s. To fill the gap a dedicated nuclear course has been organized to support the education of new experts into the nuclear field. More than ten courses (about 5 weeks of training) have been organized (one course per year) with 60-70 participants in each course.
Due to limited resources the international co-operation e.g. with reactor vendors (e.g. ABB Atom in Sweden), international organizations (IAEA, OECD) and international waste management organizations (e.g. with SKB) has been vital for the development of nuclear expertise in Finland. Today Posiva's spent fuel disposal project is moving from research phase to construction phase. The spent fuel encapsulation and final disposal facility should start operation early 2020s. The main challenge of the project is the fact that it is the first of its kind facility in the world which is a challenge both for the operator Posiva and for the regulator.
The Future of Nuclear
Loviisa NPP units have an operating license valid until 2027 (Loviisa 1) and 2030 (Loviisa 2). Olkiluoto 1 and 2 plants have operating license valid until 2018. According to TVO Olkiluoto 3 will apply for operating license early 2016. There is no political pressure to close the reactors. Hence, the utilities may apply for new operating licenses, if they consider it economical.
The challenges of nuclear power production in Finland include e.g. the low power prices in Nordic countries, which have led to decisions to close the oldest reactor units in Sweden. Updating the oldest reactors to meet the latest safety standards, the availability of the spare parts for the oldest reactors, and motivation of personnel when approaching the time for closing and decommissioning of the oldest reactors will be a challenge in the future.