Peppi Seppälä
Featured voices - April 18, 2024

Peppi Seppälä

Spokesperson for the Young Greens in Finland

"There is a misconception that nuclear power is dangerous and generates emissions”

The protection of nature and the environment, as well as the fight against the climate crisis, led Peppi Seppälä to join the Green Party. For two years, she led the Young Greens of Finland, a country with five reactors where 35% of electricity is nuclear-generated. In an interview with Foro Nuclear, this Municipal Councillor from the city of Espoo, on the southern coast of the country, asserts that "there is a new movement in Europe that promotes nuclear energy as a necessary part in the goal towards phasing out fossil fuels".

What inspired your interest in this technology, and how did you become involved in its defence?

When I was thirteen years old I gave a presentation in school about the dangers of nuclear energy. Fast forward to university, where I found out how nuclear power actually works, and what kind of protective measurements nuclear energy plants have. Around the same time I also found out how large of a shift is necessary to phase out fossil fuels, and how hard, if not impossible, it would be to execute this shift in time without nuclear energy.  I don’t see myself as pro-nuclear, but rather anti-fossil fuels, and in that sense I am willing to use the tools available.

"I don’t see myself as pro-nuclear, but rather anti-fossil fuels, and in that sense I am willing to use the tools available”

What misconceptions exist regarding nuclear power plants?

Primarily that they produce carbon emissions. They don't, and their lifetime emissions are similar, if not lower than renewable energy. The second most prominent misconception is that there are no safe storage solutions. In Finland we’ve built a storage facility underground, and similar solutions could be adopted in other countries. It’s also a bit of a double standard: for some reason we think nuclear energy needs to handle its own waste, yet we’re fine dumping the waste of fossil burning plants in our shared atmosphere.

Another misconception is that it’s too dangerous and risky. The number of people killed every year by fossil fuels and their emissions absolutely dwarfs the number of people killed in nuclear accidents.

"Nuclear lifetime emissions are similar, if not lower than renewable energy”

Another misconception is that it’s too dangerous and risky. The number of people killed every year by fossil fuels and their emissions absolutely dwarfs the number of people killed in nuclear accidents.

Peppi Seppälä

How are these misconceptions dismantled?

By having open discussions and providing facts, but also honestly listening to the people’s worries. In Finland we are open about how our plants operate and organize visits for interested people. It’s also important to accept that people will have differing opinions; but a constructive, open discussion helps us to find solutions to our shared problems.

Finland has a solution for the final storage of nuclear waste. Do you think this is a key point for social acceptance?

I think it has a big impact. Although the danger of nuclear waste is sometimes exaggerated, it’s good to have a complete waste solution. I hope that this will also push other sources of energy production to design plans regarding how to handle their production from cradle to grave.

Why did you decide to join Finland’s Green Party?

I have always been worried about the environment, and the Green Party was the only one that took the risk of climate disaster seriously. I also share the Green Party’s basic ideology that we need to take care of everybody, even those who don’t have a voice, like nature and unborn generations who will share this planet with us.

In your opinion, what reasons have driven your party to support nuclear energy? Are there differences of opinion among party members regarding this?

I don’t think there is a political party where all members share the same opinion about anything, and in the Green Party there are still many people who oppose nuclear energy. But I think the main reason has been that we have talked a lot about energy production as a party, and through those conversations we have formed a shared understanding of what is possible and how different energy types work. This has led to many people that were previously opposed to nuclear to change their opinions to partly or totally accept nuclear energy.

"As the discussion about nuclear energy, energy transition and climate targets gains more momentum, we’ll see some change."

Do you believe that this favourable view of nuclear energy, which is also shared by some Swedish colleagues, will spread to other countries?

There is a new movement in Europe that promotes nuclear energy as a necessary part of removing fossil fuels. I think that, as the discussion about nuclear energy, energy transition and climate targets gains more momentum, we’ll see some change. The most important thing is that we don’t pressure people into a corner, but keep an open dialogue between differing views and try to find a common ground.

In other interviews you stated that, as long as they are safe, “no Finnish political party wants an early closure of nuclear power plants”. Is this correct?

Yes. Finnish politics has often had a more pragmatic view regarding energy production. Our public discussion regarding nuclear power has been more about poorly executed and delayed projects than about any calls to shut down reactors.

This stance is the opposite of Spain’s, where there is an agenda to shut down the seven operating nuclear reactors between 2027 and 2035. Do you have any comments on this?

Every country's energy mix is different, so there isn’t one single solution that would fit all. At the same time we have seen the energy crisis in Europe after Russia's attack on Ukraine. It also seems that we are currently not meeting the goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees. Reflecting on that, I am worried that decisions to shut down fossil-free energy production will make it even harder to meet the current demand for clean energy.

”I am worried that decisions to shut down fossil-free energy production will make it even harder to meet the current demand for clean energy”

In other interviews you also pointed out that a combination of nuclear and renewables is positive. Do you think this is the most appropriate energy mix?

I personally think that a combination of stable nuclear energy and more volatile renewable energy would be an easier transition than trying to move directly to fully renewable. This doesn't mean that we should not develop our response to demand and storage for electricity as well as reduce energy consumption, but we also cannot trust that these alone would be enough for the needed transition. It is also important that the price of electricity does not cause energy poverty, which is something that very volatile prices could do.

How do you envision the future of nuclear energy in the world?

I think the amount of nuclear energy will increase in the next decade, but I hope that in the long run we could start to reduce the amount of energy that we need for our lifestyle. It is especially important to lift developing countries from energy poverty, but at the same time more developed countries should find ways to cut back on consumption culture.

What would you like to add?

I hope that people learn how different ways of energy production work, and take into account their real advantages and disadvantages. This creates a basis productive dialogue and steers us towards the best possible energy solutions for our future.

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