Member of the Finnish Parlament, Helsinki City Council, and the Green Party, Atte Harjanne defends nuclear energy as an essential part of the fight against climate change. "The more I've looked into the possible global emissions reduction pathways, the more supportive towards nuclear I've become", he says.
"Science supports the view that nuclear is clearly an important part of future energy mix"
Why do you think nuclear is part of the solution against climate change?
It is technically a great way to produce heat and electricity with remarkably low emissions and environmental impact in relation to the energy produced. It can be used to produce base load power, and it can be built basically anywhere. Wind, solar, hydro and nuclear can together form the basis for a decarbonized energy system. Excluding nuclear from this toolbox is foolish - especially premature decommissioning of nuclear power plants is terrible climate policy.
What led you, in a party like yours, to position yourself in favor of nuclear energy?
Worries about climate change and biodiversity loss are the most important drivers for me to participate in politics. I'm never been strongly anti-nuclear, but the more I've looked into the possible global emissions reduction pathways, the more supportive towards nuclear -and new nuclear- I've become.
People from your party or other greens consider your position on nuclear strange?
In Finland these days, not so much. Concern over climate change and biodiversity easily exceeds concerns over sustainability of nuclear power for many, and I'm not by far the only green promoting nuclear as part of the solution. The fundamental opposition has made room for a more nuanced view. Many still consider nuclear to be too slow and costly option to be invested in -I understand this reasoning even though I don't agree with it-. Elsewhere in Europe the situation is different, although I've got many supporting messages from greens across Europe. It's also worth noting that skepticism towards nuclear power is not limited to greens.
One of your goals as a politician is to build bridges between different perspectives. Do you think it is possible to achieve the same goals in the nuclear sector?
Yes, of course. The key is to first agree on the overarching goals -decarbonized economy, safe and sufficient energy- and only after that debate about the options and to do that in a balanced way.
"Unless there is some completely revolutionary technological breakthrough, future without nuclear looks bleak"
Why do say that we should rethink how we talk about energy and climate?
In order to mitigate climate change to a tolerable level, we need rapid system level decarbonization of our economies and economic development. This challenge should guide our policy targets and measures. Yet instead we are often just talking about things like share of renewable energy and short term economic profitability. We are missing the big picture and drawing the wrong conclusions.
You claim more scientific knowledge in political areas. Do you consider that this knowledge will lead to a better acceptance of nuclear energy?
Yes, since science supports the view that nuclear is clearly an important part of future energy mix. However, political resistance does often not result from insufficient knowledge -Willingness to accept new knowledge depends also on attitudes and political interests.
Can you tell us about the nuclear sector in your country?
Finnish nuclear policy is relatively pragmatic. We are building two new nuclear plants (both of the projects have had some serious problems though) and small modular reactors are actually now under consideration as a possible way to decarbonize district heating in the biggest cities. Support for nuclear is growing among general populace in the face of climate crisis and as the limitations of bioenergy are being understood better and better. The Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) has very good reputation as trustworthy expert in the field of nuclear safety.
"The problem is that we're in such a hurry to reduce emissions that we can't wait for these generations to grow up and fix the issue"
How do you see the future without nuclear power plants, as in Germany?
Unless there is some completely revolutionary technological breakthrough, future without nuclear looks bleak. It is likely to result in an energy system where variable renewable production is largely backed up by natural gas or biomass and not the necessary deep decarbonization. I think we can survive one big country taking this irresponsible route, but if the German way ends up being the European or even global way, I don't see much of chance to limit global warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees or to stop the declining biodiversity.
Do you think it is possible to electrify transport and industries only with renewable energies?
Theoretically yes, but probably with high material, land use and energy costs. 100 % renewability is a problematic target and if we focus on it, we forget what the actual problems we should solve are.
How can the new generations fight climate change?
The problem is that we're in such a hurry to reduce emissions that we can't wait for these generations to grow up and fix the issue. So young people must not only educate themselves and make sustainable choices -they must call and demand the older generations to act now- like Greta Thunberg.
You work in the City Council of Helsinki. How can you fight climate change from a local government?
Local governments have very important role. City like Helsinki is just the right size so it can move fast, yet it really has an impact and can demonstrate scalable solutions. Helsinki has an ambitious climate strategy and has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2035. Now we really have to watch that this is actually done.
Would you like to add anything?
Climate change and the sixth extinction wave are existential threats to our welfare and human development. We must keep all the tools available to manage these challenges.