Finland eyes nuclear district heating

Finland is investigating the use of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) for district heating, according to reports.  

For one report from the country’s VTT Technical Research Centre, a feasibility study known as PARIS (Potential of Advanced Reactors for Industry and Society) has mapped different reactor types, their possible applications and modelling requirements, with the most promising applications to be studied further in 2018.

Meanwhile, Swiss- and UK-based nonprofit Energy for Humanity reports that the cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Kirkkonummi have initiated studies to determine whether SMRs could replace their coal- and gas-fired district heating plants.

In Helsinki, members of the city council are working with the Ecomodernist Society of Finland, an environmental NGO, to undertake a feasibility study and make SMRs part of the decarbonization discussion.

Several SMRs that are currently being developed should come to market by 2030 and could meet the criteria for such a project, Energy for Humanity said.

The majority of Finland’s district heating plants are fuelled by coal, gas, wood and peat, making decarbonization of cities' heating sectors problematic despite their having climate policies in place. 

Petrus Pennanen, Helsinki city council member and vice-chair of the Finnish Pirate Party, said: “More than half of the greenhouse emissions of all of Helsinki come from district heating, mainly run by fossil fuels. If we are serious about decarbonizing Helsinki, we need to at least take an honest look at these upcoming reactors.”

And Atte Harjanne, another Helsinki council member and climate change researcher at Finland’s meteorological institute, added that nuclear power “has proven – despite the early fears the environmental movement grew up with – to be a safe, fast and cost-effective way to decarbonize the energy sector. It deserves a look at a level playing field.”

Rauli Partanen, an energy analyst and vice-chair of the Ecomodernist Society, sees economic potential in using SMRs to fuel combined heat and power (CHP) systems.

“With CHP, the reactor could produce roughly twice the value per installed capacity compared with just electricity production, while at the same time decarbonizing heat production," he said.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pebble_bed_reactor_scheme_(English).svg

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