Finland and Europe's largest nuclear reactor: fuel for 100,000 years

Finland has inaugurated the largest nuclear reactor in the world. The launch of the Olkiluoto 3 reactor has been long delayed, but it is the first nuclear plant to open in Europe in 16 years

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Finland and Europe's largest nuclear reactor: fuel for 100,000 years

Finland has inaugurated the largest nuclear reactor in the world. The launch of the Olkiluoto 3 reactor has been long delayed, but it is the first nuclear plant to open in Europe in 16 years. Together with two other nuclear reactors on the island of Olkiluoto off the west coast of Finland, the new 1.6 gigawatt plant will produce a third of the country's electricity.

"The production of Olkiluoto 3 stabilizes the electricity price and plays an important role in Finland's green transition," said Jarmo Tanhua, CEO of TVO, adding that environmentally friendly electricity generation is one of Finland's assets.

Production at the reactor began hours after Germany shut down its last three nuclear power plants, marking the end of the country's 60-year atomic age. The German move followed a law passed by the centre-left government in 2002 and public protests against nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The Olkiluoto 3 plant was originally scheduled to open in 2009 but faced long planning-related delays, in part due to the construction of advanced safety features. The plant has produced power in a test phase over the past year and will supply Finland with electricity for at least 60 years, according to plant operator Teollisuuden Voima Oyj (TVO).

Public support for nuclear energy has grown in Finland, with about 60% of Finns in favor and 11% against, according to a survey commissioned last year by the Finnish Energy organisation. Finland's Green Party has also dropped its opposition to nuclear power, unlike its counterparts in other European countries.

Finland has a very strong culture of trust in authorities and experts, said Ville Tulkki, a nuclear scientist at the Vtt Technical Research Center of Finland, noting that public confidence that nuclear waste can be disposed of safely has allowed people to accept nuclear energy.

Finland's reliance on nuclear energy, in combination with hydro and wind power, is part of the Nordic nation's transition to carbon neutrality, which has helped make Helsinki resilient to energy supply disruptions, such as those following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Nuclear fuel for the plant is mined primarily in Canada, Kazakhstan and Australia and produced in fuel assemblies in Germany, Sweden and Spain. Nuclear power remains controversial in Europe, mainly due to security concerns, exacerbated by the 2011 Fukushima disaster and the occupation by Russian soldiers of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

By the time Germany pulled the plug on its nuclear facilities on Sunday, Lithuania and Italy had already quit the production of nuclear energy. Of the remaining 14 EU countries currently using nuclear power, Belgium, Switzerland have said they will phase it out within a decade.