Estonia eyes Finnish nuclear plant

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

TALLINN - Top government and energy officials have reiterated Estonia's desire to own a stake in a nuclear power plant that may be built in Finland over the next decade. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said on Sept. 11 that the Baltic state was interested in the nuclear project which, if built, would be Finland's sixth nuclear power plant.
Eesti Energia board chairman Sandor Liive said the next day that, if Estonia were to join the project, it would likely have an interest smaller than the 22 percent Estonia is set to own in Lithuania's planned nuclear plant. Estonia's decision to look north for more megawatts is crucial in that it allows Estonia, which is set to lose its oil shale-based energy production in 2015, to play Finland off Lithuania. Estonian officials have expressed mild disappointment in Lithuania for a number of mishaps in handling diplomacy surrounding the 4 billion euro nuclear plant.

Finland will make a final decision next year on whether to invite partners to the project, while Parliament is expected to approve construction in 2009, according to reports. The sixth nuclear power plant has a tentative completion date of 2016 - 18, about the same time Lithuania's new plant, which aims to replace the current facility in Ignalina, would go online.

As Liive explained during a visit to Finland, nuclear power could in the future account for about one-third of Eesti Energia's electricity sales and comprise approximately 500 megawatts in the firm's energy portfolio.

Finland generates approximately one-fourth of its electricity from the peaceful atom and is currently building the world's largest facility - a 1,600-megawatt nuclear reactor - at Olkiluoto. Economic Affairs Minister Juhan Parts was quoted earlier this month as saying that Estonia was keen on the Finnish project and that it was important that the Baltic state received political and commercial support in Finland in order to sign on to the multi-billion euro venture. "We are very much interested in achieving Finland's political support of Estonian companies' involvement, as well as the support of companies that have invested into Finnish nuclear power plants by now," Parts said.

The Finno-Ugric neighbors appear headed toward a deal. Any joint agreement on nuclear power sharing would require infrastructure, which is why Estonia and Finland are developing a second underwater cable linking the two countries' energy grids. Eesti Energia said on Sept. 14 that it was hoping to build a 650 megawatt cable - dubbed Estlink-2 - by 2013. Estlink-1, which was launched at the beginning of 2007, has a capacity of 350 megawatts. Thus Estlink-2, which would cost approximately 200 million euros, would bring aggregate capacity of the power links between the two countries to 1,000 megawatts. Andrus recently told his Finnish counterpart Matti Vanhanen during their meeting on Saaremaa that Estonia was interested in both Estlink-2 and Finland's possible sixth nuclear plant.

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