Esa HyvärinenPresident of FORATOM
"The European Union needs all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear energy"
Interview with Esa Hyvärinen, new president of FORATOM: "It is important to ensure that nuclear energy is treated on an equal footing with other low-carbon energy sources by EU decision makers".
As new president of FORATOM, what are your priorities for your time here?
I would like to see FORATOM playing –on behalf of the European nuclear industry– an even bigger role during the process of developing new climate and energy policies at EU level, such as for example the European Green Deal. The most important objective in this process will be to emphasize the importance of introducing and maintaining the "technology neutrality" principle in all EU policies, while focusing at the same time on topics in which nuclear energy has an important role to play such as: fighting against climate change, European industrial strategy, security of energy supply, or affordability. It is important to keep highlighting that nuclear energy can help the European Union meet not only its climate goals, but also many others.
The European Commission has recognized nuclear energy as an important element for the decarbonisation of Europe in the future. How do you think FORATOM can help reinforce this recognition?
The recognition of nuclear energy by the European Commission in its 2050 long-term strategy was an important sign for us, however from a nuclear industry standpoint the question is how this recognition will be reflected in particular EU legislative files, such as the European Green Deal or the Sustainable Finance taxonomy regulation. That is why it is important to ensure that nuclear energy is treated on an equal footing with other low-carbon energy sources by EU decision makers. I can ensure that FORATOM – as the spearhead of the whole European nuclear industry at EU level– will work to achieve this goal. FORATOM will keep highlighting all the features of nuclear energy that can contribute to meeting the EU's climate goals, to the development of the European Union's economy, and to the achievement of other EU goals.
"The EU, in order to achieve its 2050 decarbonisation goals, needs all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear energy"
How will Brexit affect the European nuclear industry?
Brexit was an important event for nuclear energy on two levels. First, the UK is a pro-nuclear country and its absence will definitely have an impact on nuclear energy's position in the EU. That being said, in many countries the tide towards nuclear is turning. We have countries – without nuclear energy so far– that are seriously considering investing in new build, such as Poland and Estonia. Recently, several Member States made their commitment to more ambitious CO2 reduction targets conditional on being able to invest in new nuclear capacity. Also, the European Council's memorandum following the latest EUCO includes nuclear energy as a tool used by some Member States to achieve climate neutrality. This trend shows that more and more EU Member States consider nuclear energy as an important tool in counteracting climate change and see a bright future for it in Europe.
The second level is the future relationship between the UK and the EU. For example, there are several nuclear new build projects in the UK which are carried out with a significant involvement of European companies. This is why, it is important to guarantee a new post-Brexit relationship, which would ensure continued access to supply chain opportunities. This is essential given the importance of the UK market for the European nuclear industry and associated industries.
As head of the CEO Office at Fortum Corporation, which supports the European Green Deal and climate neutrality, how do you think FORATOM can contribute to the achievement of this Green Deal?
FORATOM welcomes the European Commission's goal of becoming more ambitious in reducing its CO2 emissions whilst at the same time ensuring that no EU citizen is left behind in the transition. If the EU is to achieve its zero-carbon target 2050, then its current 2030 CO2 reduction targets may not be enough. We therefore support the Commission's goal of raising this target, as long as it leaves Member States free to choose their own low-carbon energy mix. Expecting them to reduce their GHG emissions, whilst at the same time preventing them from investing in specific low-carbon technologies such as nuclear, would be counter-productive.
FORATOM believes that the European Union, in order to achieve its 2050 decarbonisation goals, needs all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear energy. This will enable the bloc to achieve a sustainable and low-carbon future while at the same time providing people with reliable and affordable electricity.
"As FORATOM, our main objective is to be in contact with EU institutions, and this is the main task we focus on"
Fortum is supporting innovative solutions for nuclear waste management. It seems that nuclear waste is the main deterrent for a favorable public opinion on nuclear power. Will you be addressing these innovations for the European Community?
The management of nuclear waste is definitely one the challenges the European nuclear industry has to face. It is important to highlight that nuclear waste at EU level is dealt with in line with the EU's directive on the responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste. The outcome of the latest EC report on the progress of implementation of the directive identified many positive activities carried out by the industry in the last months, however there is still a lot to be done by the Member States in this field. The latest developments concerning the EU's Sustainable Finance Initiative show that this is something that the industry – even though it maintains the highest safety standards– still has not been able to communicate clearly enough to the public and decision makers. I hope that the Finnish Onkalo project can be used as an example in order to convince people that spent nuclear fuel can be managed in a sustainable manner.
"We work closely with all our members and support them in their attempt to promote nuclear among the public"
What do you think is the most efficient way to disseminate and share information on nuclear power to the public in order to gain more acceptance?
As FORATOM, our main objective is to be in contact with EU institutions, and this is the main task we focus on. However, we work closely with all our members and support them in their attempt to promote nuclear among the public. It has been proved many times that nuclear energy's approval is correlated with the level of knowledge about it. The more people know about its benefits, the more in favor of nuclear energy they become. Our members prove it regularly. Nuclear energy brings many benefits that should be promoted, not only its contribution to counteracting climate change, but also security of energy supply, economic growth, R&D and innovation, etc.
Do you consider it necessary to push for more favorable legislation and regulation for nuclear power in Europe?
FORATOM's goal is to ensure that nuclear energy is included in all energy-related developments at EU level and that the EU recognises for example what the IPCC, IEA or MIT say about nuclear energy as they underline that deep decarbonisation cannot be achieved without it. However, from our perspective we don't want to push more favourable legislation for nuclear power – compared with other low-carbon energy sources. What is important, is the treating all low-carbon energy sources equally which is not always the case, in spite of even the European Commission describing nuclear energy as the backbone of the 2050 carbon-free Europe, together with renewables.
Germany has made the decision to decommission all its nuclear power plants. How do you think this will affect European climate goals?
In fact, Germany's decision to phase out nuclear power prematurely can be perceived by other EU Member States in some way as a "lesson learnt". In the European Union, more and more countries seem to understand that the full decarbonisation of their energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement and EU climate and energy goals cannot be achieved without nuclear energy. Germany, which decided to prematurely phase out its nuclear fleet, confirmed that it would miss its 2020 emissions targets by a wide margin. It shows that the country won't be able to achieve its climate goals without nuclear energy.
On the contrary, recently several EU Member States made their commitment to more ambitious CO2 reduction targets conditional upon being able to invest in new nuclear power. This trend shows that more and more Member States consider nuclear energy to be an important tool in counteracting climate change and see a bright future for it in the EU.
What can you tell us about nuclear power in Finland and the world's first geological repository currently in construction in Olkiluoto?
Finland is definitely a strong and important advocate for nuclear energy at EU level. With four reactors providing approximately 30% of its electricity (50% of low-carbon), two ongoing new-build projects (Olkiluoto and Hanhikivi) and its serious approach towards the development of small modular reactors, it can be rightly perceived as one of the benchmarks for other EU countries showing how nuclear energy can help countries achieve their energy and climate goals.
Furthermore, Finland is a frontrunner in the safe disposal of used nuclear fuel. Onkalo is under construction and should start operating in the middle of the decade. In Finland, there is also a broad consensus among the political parties and the society in general on the role of nuclear in providing electricity as well as mitigating climate change. In the recent poll, 49% of Finns were positive about nuclear, while the share of those who were negative towards it was 15%. The broad acceptance of nuclear energy is a result of a long-lasting, responsible and transparent work of nuclear companies as well as of highly capable authorities.
"Nuclear waste at EU level is dealt with in line with the EU's directive on the responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste"
Are you optimistic regarding the Paris Agreement? Will we be able to stop the damage to the environment and create a better world for future generations?
I am optimistic as long as decision makers rely on the opinion of experts who are analyzing the current situation and recommending how the world can fulfill the Paris Agreement's promise. The UN's IPPC has made it clear that nuclear power is essential if the world is to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees. We have to choose the best tools available today as renewables alone cannot solve the climate crisis and betting too much on CO2 emitting gas could also have harmful lock-in effects in the long term. That's why, low-carbon, flexible nuclear must form part of the energy mix. In order to ensure that the Paris commitment is met, EU Member States must maintain the freedom to choose their own low-carbon energy mix. Expecting them to reduce their GHG emissions, whilst at the same time preventing them from investing in specific low-carbon technologies, such as nuclear, would be counter-productive.