Estonia is seriously concerned about the creation of atomic energy. This is a forced measure for the country. On the one hand, under pressure from the EU, Estonians are gradually closing the oil shale industry, on the other hand, the task has been set to get out of the energy connection with Russia and Belarus. Thus, the state makes itself dependent on the supply of electricity from the EU, but this, as Tallinn fears, is an unreliable path. So far, the European Union allows its members to decide on the creation of a nuclear power plant independently. And in Estonia they are thinking to follow the path of Poland, which also decided to create energy independence for itself precisely at the expense of the peaceful atom. Details – in the material “Izvestia”.
Looking for a way out
The issue has been discussed for several years. In June 2019, Minister of Economy and Infrastructure Taavi Aas said that he welcomes the start of a debate on the construction of a new generation nuclear power plant in Estonia. Aas believes that there are places in Estonia suitable for nuclear power plants, such as Kunda, a town in the north of the country. The minister admitted that the situation in the Estonian energy sector is very problematic. This is largely due to the fact that Estonia, like other Baltic countries, has decided within the next five years to leave the BRELL energy ring (Belarus – Russia – Estonia – Lithuania – Latvia), which since Soviet times has connected the Baltic States with Russia and Estonia.
The decision to leave BRELL remains purely political, while its economic aspects have faded into the background – which Aas also admitted. “They said that after synchronization with the grids of Europe, we will have additional opportunities, that we will receive electricity from Central and Northern Europe, so we will be able to disconnect from Russia. I would like to know how our energy security will be ensured if both coal and nuclear power plants are constantly closed in Scandinavia and in mainland Europe. There is no longer any surplus of electricity even in Germany, ”Taavi Aas worries. Nevertheless, the minister considers the decision to synchronize the state with the EU networks to be fundamentally correct.
View of the coast and the port of Kunda, Estonia
The situation is complicated by the fact that Estonia is shutting down its oil shale energy sector as “dirty” and “non-ecological”. Due to its obligations to the EU, Estonia must, within the framework of the Paris Climate Agreement, radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and almost completely (to the state of “zero balance”) by 2050. A large share of these emissions comes from oil shale energy enterprises, which have already faced a large-scale crisis due to EU requirements.
In the spring of 2019, Narva’s power plants had to sharply cut their electricity generation due to the rise in the price of carbon dioxide quotas. In parallel, the closure of shale mines was accompanied by layoffs, which led to an increase in unemployment in the north-eastern county of Ida-Virumaa… As a result of a conflict with energy and coal miners’ unions, the government had to approve a softer schedule for winding down and firing workers from shale power plants and mines.
Taavi Aas would like to delay the final closure of the old shale power plants as much as possible. “I think they should be in reserve until at least 2025, even if we don’t use them. In 2025, we will be able to decide whether we are provided with the necessary energy or whether we need to keep these stations in reserve. Or it will be necessary to find other ways, for example, to build a fourth-generation nuclear power plant to guarantee the safety of electricity supply, ”the minister said.
Фото: commons.wikimedia.org/Moltex Energy LLP
Reactor module and core of a 300 MW reactor with 2 modules, developed by Moltex Energy
At the same time there was a search for a way out of this situation. In the spring of 2019, the Estonian company Fermi Energia signed a memorandum of understanding with the Canadian-British firm Moltex Energy, which develops next-generation nuclear reactors. This drew criticism from experts. Russian energy specialist Alexei Anpilogov said that Moltex Energy, which offered Tallinn the installation of a “compact” nuclear reactor, does not even have its “sensible” project, not to mention its own experience in building a nuclear power plant. “There are only beautiful three-dimensional pictures. Moltex Energy has so far only recruited several specialists who had previously been working on Canadian heavy water reactors using natural uranium. The idea of that modular small reactor offered by Moltex Energy has not yet been put into practice. All the stories that such a reactor will be completely safe, completely self-utilized and will work for a long time without maintenance – this is still nothing more than a concept, “Anpilogov noted then.
“Breakthrough in technology”
However, six months later the Estonians outplayed everything. In early October 2019, Fermi Energia signed a new letter of intent – this time with GE Hitachi (GEH). The document concerns the possible deployment of a small modular nuclear reactor BWRX-300 in the republic. Boiling water reactors have been operating “safely, economically and reliably” in the Scandinavian countries for decades, says Kalev Kallemets, chairman of the board of Fermi Energia. The BWRX-300 is a 300 MW, natural circulation, passively cooled unit of this type, based on an ESBWR type reactor licensed by the US Atomic Energy Commission. At the beginning of 2020, Fermi Energia began searching for locations for a possible nuclear power plant.
Fermi Energia co-founder Sandor Liive (formerly head of the state-owned energy concern Eesti Energia) recalled that a power plant with a capacity of over 150 MW can only be erected on the basis of a special state planning. “No nuclear power plant can be built secretly. If we do not do this today, then in ten years we will not have the opportunity to make a choice, ”explained a Fermi Energia representative. According to him, the optimistic scenario provides for the opening of the power plant in the early 2030s.
Fermi Energia CEO Kalev Kallemets with a modular nuclear power plant model up to 300 megawatts
Фото: REUTERS/Scanpix Baltics/Madis Veltman
Fermi Energia has set itself the goal of building a small modern modular nuclear power plant in Estonia with a capacity of 200-300 MW. This will be enough to meet 1/10 of the needs of the Baltic countries. “There are several nuclear power plants near us – in Sweden, Finland and Russia. But we ourselves do not have this source of electricity, which does not generate CO² emissions and has a predictable cost, ”added Sandor Liive. According to Liive, the future of nuclear power is connected with small standard reactors of a new generation, which will be able to compete with both traditional power plants and parks of wind generators and solar panels. “It will be profitable to build such a reactor in Estonia as well. The cost of CO² emissions is so high that it is economically difficult to generate electricity from oil shale. The future is small standard licensed reactors that will be able to compete in the free electricity market, ”Liive said on ETV +.
For and against
In February 2020, the first public discussion of the project for the construction of a nuclear power plant took place in the Estonian county of Lääne-Viru County. “Investors all over the world expect to obtain permission to build small nuclear reactors sometime in 2024 and build them by 2028. Only after that, given the financial possibilities and state programs, having studied the already working models, we will choose the final technology and only then will we apply for the construction, ”said Kalev Kallemets, member of the Board of Fermi Energia.
However, the residents of the region are concerned about the possible upcoming proximity to the nuclear power plant. “It is quite difficult to find a place where to dump nuclear waste or where to take it away. I think this is a very big risk. If it is not possible to export from here, then we must have some kind of storage option in Estonia. We did not receive a concrete answer to this. Who is working on this and what should we do next? ”Rakvere City Council Chairman Mihkel Yukhkami asked a rhetorical question.
Demonstration in support of nuclear energy in Tallinn, Estonia, 18 September 2020
Photo: REUTERS / PM / POSTIMEES GRUPP / Tairo Lutter
In September 2020, demonstrations in support of the peaceful atom took place in Tallinn and Tartu. According to the Chairman of the Tartu City Council Lemmit Kaplinski, these actions were intended to “give impetus to a bold discussion of the nuclear energy issue”… He pointed out that now Estonia is in the top ten of the world ranking for environmental pollution – all because of oil shale. According to Kaplinski, people need to think about the importance of using an environmentally friendly method of generating electricity that is stable and virtually CO2-free.
According to supporters, the NPP has a tangible advantage over the “green” energy. “If we build a large wind park on the shores of the Baltic Sea, there will also be many dangers and risks. Nuclear power plants are fairly compact and well controlled. They generate relatively little waste: 40 grams per person per year. For comparison, we now generate 20 tons of waste per person per year. This problem is much more serious, and the dangers that exist now are much more significant. It’s just that people don’t see it, ”says businessman and environmentalist Jaak Laineste.
However, at this stage, Fermi Energia does not aim to fully cover the country’s electricity needs. Sandor Liive is confident that in the future there will be more wind turbines in Estonia, solar panels on the roofs of houses and factories. However, as he believes, if there is an additional demand for energy, then after the construction of one nuclear power plant, it is possible to build a second or a third. With regard to the lack of specialists in the field of nuclear energy, then, according to Liive, “the nearest place where you can get an appropriate education is Stockholm.”
Photo: Global Look Press / imago-images / SANDER ILVEST
However, not everyone in Estonia supports these plans. Andrei Zaitsev, the head of the Estonian Power Industry Union, addressed Liiva with a question: “Sandor, do you feel sorry for the people of Estonia? You want to bring here something that does not exist anywhere else. Bring some kind of fourth-generation power plant that doesn’t exist even on paper, probably. That is, to bring a bomb here that someone will roll in here, figuratively speaking. Let her first recommend her performance, reliability, and so on. Then you can think about it. However, by the time it proves its efficiency, Europe and the world in general will say that this too should be taxed and closed. “
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