10/01/2018 – News / Energy / Environment / Heating / Decarbonise / Fossil Fuel / Nuclear / Finland

Finnish cities explore potential for small nuclear reactors to decarbonise district heating

The Finnish cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Kirkkonummi – with others possibly to follow – have initiated studies to find out if it would be feasible to replace coal and natural gas in district heating with small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs).


Helsinki was the first city to embark on such investigations, with two active city council members – Petrus Pennanen (Pirate party) and Atte Harjanne (Green Party) working together with environmental NGO The Ecomodernist Society of Finland to draft the initiative and bring advanced, small reactors into the public decarbonisation discussion and media.


“More than half of the greenhouse gas emissions of all of Helsinki come from district heating, mainly run by fossil fuels. If we are serious about decarbonising Helsinki, we need to at least take an honest look at these upcoming reactors,” says Petrus Pennanen, Helsinki city council member and Vice-Chair of the Finnish Pirate Party, who also has a PhD in nuclear physics.


Atte Harjanne, a climate change researcher at the Finnish meteorological institute and a Green party representative at the Helsinki city council, agrees. “Nuclear has proven – despite the early fears the environmental movement grew up with – to be a safe, fast and cost-effective way to decarbonise the energy sector. It deserves a look at a level playing field.”

Rauli Partanen, Vice-Chair of The Ecomodernist Society of Finland, independent energy analyst and author of the new ,‘Decarbonizing Cities Report’

Broad decarbonising potential


Rauli Partanen, Vice-Chair of The Ecomodernist Society of Finland and an independent energy analyst and author, also sees significant economic possibilities in doing combined heat and power (CHP) with nuclear reactors. “With CHP, the reactor could produce roughly twice the value per installed capacity compared with just electricity production, while at the same time decarbonising heat production,” Mr Partanen says. “Nuclear is great for baseload needs, but with advanced technologies such as high temperature reactors and high temperature electrolysis, we can use nuclear to decarbonise not just electricity and heat, but also transportation fuels and many industries.”


Rauli Partanen is the author of a study published in September 2017 by Ecomodernist Society of Finland and Energy for Humanity. The study inspected how we could decarbonise the Helsinki Metropolitan Area energy sector completely with advanced nuclear reactors. “I’m very glad that the Ecomodernist Society of Finland has enabled people to get to know this technology and each other, and can help coordinate progressive ideas like this,” he added.


“The most progressive climate initiative in years”


Helsinki city councilor Petrus Pennanen says that while he penned the original initiative for Helsinki, a further goal was to get other, surrounding cities to do something similar. “Most of the district heating networks in the area are interconnected, so it makes sense to include the whole area in the study. I’m very excited to learn that Espoo and Kirkkonummi are also interested, and welcome other cities to join as well. This is the most progressive climate initiative in years, and I'm looking forward to the Helsinki metropolitan area showing the way for other northern cities in the world how to make major emission reductions happen in reality.”

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