Tiny Estonia could go nuclear, sees oil shale hope

Friday, March 7, 2008

Estonia, one of the smallest European Union countries, is considering its own nuclear power plant and wants to use its experience of producing power from oil shale in other countries, the state energy company said.

Estonia is the world’s most dependent country on oil shale, producing 90% of its power from the sedimentary rock, though it is one of the most polluting of fossil fuels. Estonia accounts for 70% of the world’s processed oil shale, though large deposits are also found in the United States and other countries like Australia, Brazil and Jordan.

“If we look further to increase CO2-free power in general we are looking at the possibility to enter nuclear power generation,” said Estonian Energy CEO Sandor Liive. “If we are talking about nuclear then in the longer term, I would not exclude Estonia. But this is very definitely a long-term project,” he added in an interview on Tuesday. Estonia has been in talks with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland jointly to build a new nuclear power station in Lithuania. It is also considering whether to take part in Finland’s planned sixth nuclear power plant. “I think the Lithuanian and Finnish projects are ones that could happen during the next 10 years,” Liive said. Estonia going it alone would take much longer. “If we take the horizon of 2055 then I would not rule out nuclear power generation in Estonia. But our thinking is in a very early stage,” he said. “It is very clear that we have to reduce the C02 intensity in our power generation portfolio,” he added.

Eyes oil shale abroad

Given Estonia’s experience with oil shale it has been eyeing how to take this expertise abroad. Estonia accounts for 70% of the world’s processing oil shale, a fine-grained sedimentary rock from which oil can be extracted or which can be burnt like coal. However, burning the rock produces one ton of carbon per megawatt hour compared to 0.8 tons for coal and 0.4 for gas. “We are studying the (oil shale) reserves in Jordan and we started this, one and a half years ago. Jordan has the fourth largest deposits of oil shale in the world,” he said. He said Estonian Energy would present a report to the Jordanian government later in the H1 of 2008. “After this, they will make a decision on whether to allow us to hold a long-term concession for resource use,” he said. The ultimate goal is to establish an shale oil factory. Liive expected oil shale to be around for many years to come as demand for energy in Estonia and elsewhere was rising. “The share of oil shale will decrease and it will be smaller, than it is today, but for the foreseeable future it will be in use for power generation,” he said.

The United States has the largest oil shale deposits in the world, but it is only the recent spike in global oil prices which has tempted the likes of Shell to develop new technologies for the more expensive oil shale extraction. As well as nuclear and more oil shale, Estonian Energy is also looking at investment to cut CO2 emissions and has planned for the next two years the establishment of wind generation plants and to add bio fuels to existing power plants. “There are very concrete projects at present in wind generation and we are looking for producers of turbines. We are also analyzing the offshore potential as well.” (Reuters)

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