Nuclear power could provide district heating for most of the capital region
Fortum and Fennovoima have both offered Helsinki a partnership in a new reactor
The City of Helsinki is to produce its own report on the feasibility of using nuclear energy to supply the district heating needs of parts of the capital or the Greater Helsinki area.
Helsinki has received offers on the subject from at least Fortum and Fennovoima. Both these companies have left applications with the government on the construction of a new nuclear reactor. The licences will be handled next winter.
Helsinki Mayor Jussi Pajunen (National Coalition Party) believes that nuclear-generated district heating could be a means by which the city could decisively reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.
In January 2008 Helsinki committed itself to a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020, relative to 1990 levels.
At present Helsinki Energy generates heat and electricity primarily through the burning of fossil fuels, in the form of natural gas and coal.
Nuclear power is a sensitive subject for Helsinki decision-makers.
"Now we have to discuss whether it is politically possible in practice to approve of the idea of nuclear power as a source of district heating", says Pajunen.
If the venture wins support and is technically and economically feasible, a decision on a reactor could be made already in 2012 and construction work could start three years later. The plant could be operational around 2020.
Fortum has offered the city a partnership deal in the building of a possible new reactor.
According to the company, a new unit at Loviisa (the site of Fortum's two existing 488MW reactors) could supply the heating requirements of the entire metropolitan area.
It would be necessary in this case to build the new facility with combined electricity generation and heating functions in mind.
In older reactors, as much as two-thirds of the heating power of the plant is driven straight into the sea as waste energy.
In the new vision, the heating component would be transported in a 70-kilometre district heating pipeline westwards to the capital. There were plans on the table for just such a venture in the 1980s; pressurised superheated water would have left Loviisa at 160°C and returned at 60°C,
The construction of a tunnel to this end is the weakest link in the entire thought-process. Building such a structure would take several years and could become so expensive that the entire idea is stillborn.
In order that Helsinki would be able to pay for the tunnel arrangements, it would be necessary in Pajunen's view for the city to be able to sell a part of the electricity production of the new reactor.
In practice this would mean that Helsinki Energy would be a shareholder in the venture.
Aside from Loviisa, there is the possibility of a nuclear plant being built at Ruotsinpyhtää, with Fennovoima as the other partner.
Ruotsinpyhtää, one of three sites put forward by Fennovoima for Finland's sixth nuclear reactor, is around 20km further east on the coast.
In Pajunen's view there is equally nothing to prevent nuclear district heating from being generated on the south side of the Gulf of Finland in Estonia.
The location of a nuclear facility is always a subject of fierce debate.
Consequently Pajunen does not believe it is likely that a site could be found any closer to the capital, so as to materially reduce the costs of building the tunnel for a pipe.
Pajunen notes that from a simple security-of-supply viewpoint it is unwise for the city to rely completely on nuclear-generated district heating.
"The heating of the Greater Helsinki area cannot be dependent solely on one pipeline or one device. Nuclear district heating could for instance be used to warm half of the city."
In addition to the nuclear alternative, Helsinki is continuing to examine carbon dioxide recovery, the use of biofuels, and the building of wind-farms.
The Hanasaari B power station in the capital will come to the end of its working life in the 2020s. There is a site provisionally ear-marked for a new power station in Sörnäinen if the city decides on this as a way forward.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Fortum enters nuclear energy race (6.2.2009)
Fortum holding back nuclear application (15.1.2009)
Helsingin Energia (Helsinki Energy)
District Heating (Wikipedia)