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Nuclear Energy in Estonia: Crossroads at the Franco-Finnish Seminar

A few days ago, on Wednesday 21 February 2024, CAdFE was invited to take part in a seminar on nuclear energy in Estonia, organised by the French Embassy. The aim of the seminar was to stimulate debate by sharing French and Finnish experiences. Here are a few extracts from the interesting exchanges between experts that took place during the morning.

The French Ambassador to Estonia, H.E. Emmanuel Mignot, opened the meeting by emphasising that the aim of the seminar was to fuel the debate through feedback from experience Estonia has in fact opened a public debate on nuclear energy, and a decision will be made by a vote in parliament by the end of 2024.

Seminar on nuclear energy organised by the French Embassy in Estonia

The international context of nuclear power, with 56 reactors under construction worldwide, was presented, highlighting the significant share in Europe and in France. Nuclear power accounts for 25% of the EU's energy mix, a response to the zero-carbon challenges set by the EU for 2050. France was open to cooperation with Estonia, while emphasising its respect for the sovereignty of the Baltic country.

Estonian Perspectives and Presentation of the Report of the Nuclear Energy Working Group

Estonian experts Anti Tooming and Reelika Runnel, who are part of the nuclear energy working group, took part in the morning's discussions. The aim of this interministerial group, which was formed in 2021, is to provide the best possible knowledge on the subject so that the country can decide on the potential role of nuclear energy in achieving climate objectives and guaranteeing energy security in Estonia. The final decision on whether or not to build a nuclear power plant will be a societal choice determined by the vote of parliamentarians in 2024.

There is strong public support for nuclear power in Estonia, with over 60% of the population declaring themselves to be in favour of nuclear energy. The proposed sites could also stimulate regional economic development. However, the need for qualified experts has been highlighted, implying an initial reliance on foreign experts.

International cooperation has been very important in this project from the outset, with the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) being followed, underlining the importance of international nuclear safety standards. The IAEA has also given a favourable opinion on the construction of a nuclear power plant in Estonia. The research budget for ensuring scientific and technological advances in the field of nuclear energy is 577,000, of which more than a third, or €209,000, comes from European funds dedicated to research and development.

How much does such a project cost?

According to the report, the Estonian government's expenditure on building the infrastructure will be offset fairly quickly. This compensation will arrive during the construction phase of the plant and will come from the revenue that the State will receive from taxes on labour and from the impact on the regional economy resulting from construction activities.

When the plant is built - around 11 years after the launch of the nuclear programme - the tax revenue received by the State would exceed expenditure by at least €5.5 million in the worst-case scenario, or €19 million in the most likely case.

Furthermore, the total cost to the State budget of the regulatory framework and educational programmes for expert training would be €73 million, with an estimated additional allocation of €54 million. This allocation is difficult to estimate precisely, and will be used to cover rescue and technical capacity-building measures.

During the public question session, the speakers addressed a number of crucial points. In the event of failure, the importance of exploring other sources of energy, in particular hydrogen, was emphasised. The EDF representative assured the audience that the French company would be ready to support the Estonian government in this endeavour. It was stressed that the role of the private sector in financing the project should not be underestimated, building on its success in other areas, such as space programmes. Finally, the Swedish Ambassador to Estonia, H.E. Ingrid Tersman, suggested the creation of a regional training complex for nuclear experts with the Nordic neighbours, offering an innovative perspective to regional cooperation.

Energy Security, Energy Sovereignty and Energy Sobriety: The Pillars of a Sustainable French Strategy

In her presentation, Cécile Maisonneuve, associate energy expert at the Institut Montaigne, highlighted Europe's current dependence on Russian gas, underlining an insufficient focus on energy security in recent decades. Cécile Maisonneuve proposes a combined approach based on hydroelectricity and nuclear power as the key to decarbonisation. She stresses the need to prioritise the production of green electricity to support the development of new green industries.

Dependence on China for renewable energies was also singled out, as was the decision to leave this sector to the private sector. Maisonneuve stressed the importance for Europe of breaking away from Russia by renewing its nuclear power, underlining the geopolitical stakes and the security of the electricity system.

Géraldine Raud, representing the French Ministry for Ecological Transition, outlined France's ambitious carbon neutrality targets. The objective of reducing electricity consumption was highlighted, supported by a survey carried out by RTE (Réseau de Transport d'Électricité, a subsidiary of EDF) on the development of electricity consumption and production up to 2050. Three different scenarios are envisaged, but the conclusion underlined that without nuclear power, carbon neutrality will not be achievable. This approach is supported by two major economic plans, "France Relance" and "France 2030".

In the discussion, the importance of a regional approach was raised, in particular by the TEN survey, which takes account of dependency between regions, with reference to Germany's decision to abandon nuclear power. However, speakers pointed to the lack of synergy and discussion at European level on the subject, indicating a greater need for cooperation. Finland shared its experience with an increase in energy production coupled with a reduction in consumption, pointing out that the issue of reduction is not receiving sufficient attention. On the other hand, the French initiative on energy efficiency in buildings and industry caught the public's attention, with examples such as 1 euro insulation, and lowering the temperature in public buildings to 19°C, which has resulted in a 10% reduction in electricity consumption.

Nuclear Waste Management Strategies: Finnish and French Experiences in Transparency, Acceptance and Implications

Pasi Tuohimaa, Head of Public Relations at Posiva Solutions, highlighted the Finnish experience of nuclear waste management by this private company. With experience spanning 44 years, the process, including site selection, excavation and licensing, culminated in the construction of a nuclear waste treatment site on the island of Olkiluoto in Finland. The storage capacity is 6,500 tonnes of uranium. The current public acceptance rate of 80% is attributed to a policy of transparency, reinforced by communication campaigns and in particular an active presence on social networks, notably with a campaign on the EU's green taxonomy, illustrated by hashtags such as #rocktorock. Employees are seen as ambassadors, contributing to the positive image of the site. Posiva Solutions presents a complete solution for the management and storage of nuclear waste. The Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency praised the quality of the project.

Nicolas Solente from the French National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management (ANDRA) presented an example of waste processing in France at the Morvilliers and La Chaise sites in the Aube region, which specialise in processing low-level radioactive waste. He highlighted the diversity of nuclear waste, mainly from nuclear power plants (60%), research (25%) and defence (9%), with three main producers: CEA, EDF and Orano. Nearly 1,760,000 m³ of nuclear waste will have been produced by the end of 2021. Solutions for the treatment of high-level waste and long-lived intermediate-level waste are currently being developed. As regards the management of low-level waste, the two sites at Morvilliers and La Chaise are already in operation and working perfectly. Solente emphasises the governance and interactions between the stakeholders, highlighting the involvement of all players in this process, demonstrating a well-defined strategy.

In the discussions, it was emphasised that the idea of joint nuclear waste treatment centres makes sense, as the main costs are fixed costs. The success of these partnerships is above all a political issue, with questions being asked about which countries would be prepared to host such structures. Experience in France and Finland has shown that the proximity of the population to a treatment site influences their willingness to accept a new centre, so there is greater acceptance from those who are better informed.

Public perception of nuclear energy and the financial impact on local areas

Michel Berthelemy, Strategic Nuclear Policy Advisor at the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), spoke about the public perception of nuclear energy and the financial returns for territories. His work at the OECD focuses on research into nuclear safety, technology and policy. He emphasised the importance of COOP28, noting that the issue of nuclear energy had been raised for the first time in bilateral cooperation between countries using nuclear energy since the beginning of its use.

In conclusion, the French Ambassador to Estonia, H.E. Emmanuel Mignot, expressed his sincere thanks to all the participants for their commitment and contribution to the discussion. He underlined the importance of the informal discussion that had emerged, highlighting a trend towards a more rational approach to nuclear energy. This shift in perception indicates a significant change in the way people approach and understand nuclear issues. The ambassador also recalled that France stands ready to support Estonia in the decision it will take, underlining the continued commitment to cooperation and the sharing of expertise between the two nations. He expressed the hope that this growing rationality will continue to guide debates and decision-making in the field of nuclear energy, thereby promoting a balanced and informed understanding of this crucial energy source for the future.



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