Sian Crampsie

Three cities in Finland are launching a study to investigate the possibility of using small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) technology to decarbonise district heating.

Helsinki, Espoo and Kirkkonummi believe that SMR technologies currently being developed could meet the specifications required and would be able to replace district heating plants that currently use coal and natural gas.

According to the Ecomodernist Society of Finland, an environmental NGO, cities in Finland have struggled to cut carbon emissions from the heating sector in spite of progressive climate policies and goals. The organisation sees “significant economic possibilities” in using SMRs in combined heat and power applications.

“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,” said Rauli Partanen, vice-chair of The Ecomodernist Society of Finland. “Nuclear is great for baseload needs, but with advanced technologies such as high temperature reactors and high temperature electrolysis, we can use nuclear to decarbonize not just electricity, heat but also transportation fuels and many industries.”

A number of technology firms have SMR designs on the drawing board, including Rolls Royce and US outfit NuScale Power. There is considerable interest in the technology from around the world because of its potential to deliver low carbon, decentralised energy systems at a lower capital cost compared with conventional, large-scale nuclear plants.

“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”, said Petrus Pennanen, Helsinki city council member and vice chair of the Finnish Pirate Party.

Atte Harjanne, a climate change researcher at the Finnish meteorological institute and a Green party representative at the Helsinki city council, said: “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.”