PYHÄJOKI, Finland – It’s a massive construction site with huge trucks constantly moving excavated soil and rock as Finnish company Fennovoima prepares the ground for the construction of a new nuclear power plant with a Russian-designed reactor in order to produce electricity in Finland.

The Hanhikivi 1 nuclear power plant on the peninsula will be built in Hanhikivenniemi, which is located 12 kilometres from Pyhäjoki. After we visited the centre of the sleepy town, we turn off highway 8 and drive on the four-kilometre Hanhikiventie isolated road to the site, which has changed significantly since New Europe visited the nuclear plant construction site in the spring of 2016 and the scale of the project is already visible. After a briefing at the new training center, we change into our safety gear and head to watch the excavation works.

Located in the municipality of Pyhäjoki, the Hanhikivi 1 nuclear power plant with a price tag of €6.7 billion is expected to help the Nordic country reduce electricity imports and provide power at a stable price for decades, according to Fennovoima. With record low winter temperatures and little sunlight, the location is a poster child for the need for reliable electricity.

Fennovoima signed a supply contract with RAOS Project Oy in 2013. The supply contract concerns a 1,200-megawatt AES-2006 type pressurised-water reactor. Russia’s Rosatom will own 34% of the plant. According to Fennovoima, Rosatom’s VVER 1200 is the most advanced upgrade of modern VVER units, with most post-Fukushima improved safety systems.

The Russians have been building VVER reactors for years and Fennovoima counts on Rosatom’s expertise to deliver Hanhikivi 1 for a turn-key delivery, Fennovoima Project Director Minna Forsström told a briefing in Helsinki on October 10 before our flight to Oulu in Northern Finland and drive to Pyhäjoki a day later.

Forsström shrugged off the latest US-EU sanctions against Russia, saying, “They do not affect Fennovoima”. “The legislation on the sanctions take into consideration the cooperation with US allies but the EU companies are consulting what actions are taken in the EU and EU members have been active in their response and taking into consideration the effects. I would say that the EU members have not really followed to an extent the US path because for many years European countries cooperated with Russia in the energy field,” Forsström said. “But nowadays when there are a lot financing arrangements, this topic comes up. But in reality it does not affect the decision-making. That’s how we see it in the practice,” she added.

The Fennovoima Project Director noted estimated costs of the work done on site before the construction of the plant starts is estimated to amount to €0.5 billion, with work being “very extensively done by Finnish companies”.

The construction of the nuclear power plant will begin after the construction licence has been granted, which Fennovoima is expecting to get in 2019. The test run for the power plant will begin in 2022. The NPP will begin producing electricity in 2024 and will have a planned operational lifetime of 60 years, she said.

The plant will operate in the Mankala model, which has enabled a large variety of different types and sizes of actors to invest in energy projects. Mankala companies, which are limited companies that produce energy for their shareholders at a cost price, produce over 40% of Finland’s electricity, Fennovoima President and CEO Toni Hemminki told a briefing in Helsinki on October 10.

The Hanhikivi 1 NPP is also inline with the European Union’s Energy Union objectives and will help Finland meets its climate goals by reducing CO2 emissions according to the Paris Climate Agreement, Hemminki said, responding to a question from New Europe.

In line with the Energy Union’s objectives, Fennovoima’s Hanhikivi 1 NPP would make a significant contribution to Finland’s energy security and the entire EU, he said. Currently, Finland imports almost 20% of its electricity from neighbouring countries. Fennovoima will also strengthen low-carbon power generation in the long run.

Hemminki reminded that, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement 2 °C target needs nuclear power to play a significant role in the low-carbon power mix. He noted that, according to the do-called 450 Scenario global nuclear generation output would increase from today’s 2535 TWh to 6101 TWh by 2040. In the 450 Scenario, low-carbon energy sources dominate the generation mix. Hydro generates 20%, nuclear 18%, wind 18% and solar PV 9%. Fossil fuel generation declines sharply with gas supplying 16%, coal 9% and oil 1%. A range of other low-carbon sources supplies the remaining 9%. “So I strongly believe that nuclear is part of the climate solution. Not saying that we are the sole solution but part of the solution,” Hemminki argued, noting, “We need investments in all forms of low-carbon power generation to meet our climate goals”.