Finnish cities might consider SMRs for district heating

15 December 2017

A number of Finnish cities have received political initiatives to evaluate the feasibility of using small modular reactors (SMRs) instead of fossil fuels to provide district heating, according to Energy for Humanity. A recent study looked at completely decarbonising electricity, transport and heating in Helsinki through the use of small, advanced reactors.

Most of the district heating in Finland is produced by burning coal, natural gas, wood fuels and peat, said the non-profit organisation, which is funded by philanthropic donations and advocates for climate action and energy access. It noted that while many Finnish cities have progressive climate policies and goals, they have struggled to decarbonise heating and liquid fuels.

"More than half of the greenhouse emissions of all of Helsinki come from district heating, mainly run by fossil fuels," said Petrus Pennanen, Helsinki city council member and vice chair of the Finnish Pirate Party. "If we are serious about decarbonising Helsinki, we need to at least take an honest look at these upcoming reactors."

Atte Harjanne, a climate change researcher at the Finnish meteorological institute and a Green Party representative at the Helsinki city council, agrees. "Nuclear has proven – despite the early fears the environmental movement grew up with – to be a safe, fast and cost-effective way to decarbonise the energy sector. It deserves a look at a level playing field."

Pennanen and Harjanne worked with the Ecomodernist Society of Finland - an environmental NGO - to draft the initiative and bring advanced, small reactors into the public decarbonisation discussion and media. The Ecomodernist Society has been fostering the dialogue for two years in Finland, organising seminars and publishing reports on heat decarbonisation with advanced and small nuclear reactors.

The Society and Energy for Humanity published a report in September this year that evaluated completely decarbonising the Helsinki metropolitan area energy sector through the use of advanced nuclear reactors. "With the large seasonal variations in heat and electricity demand, the Helsinki area presents a challenging environment for any decarbonisation effort," the report notes.

The model used in the Helsinki case study anticipates future annual energy use in district heating at 8 TWh, electricity at 12 TWh and 4 TWh of hydrogen for transportation fuels.

Although several advanced SMRs are in development and coming to market by 2030 that could meet the specifications, the study selected models to consider: the HTR-PM pebble-bed reactor currently being constructed in China and Terrestrial Energy's Integral Molten Salt Reactor.

"Small nuclear reactors are one of the few options we have in supplying reliable low-carbon heat for industrial process, district heating networks and other uses in a practical manner," the study found. "If nuclear reactors are used for combined heat and power, their overall efficiency and economics can improve enormously compared with producing just electricity," it added.

"It makes sense to explore further these technologies and the possibilities they hold. We need to take nuclear and advanced nuclear seriously. If we do not, we will never find out what they could have offered us, and might suffer a climate catastrophe instead," the study concludes.

Rauli Partanen - vice-chair of the Ecomodernist Society of Finland and author of the report - said: "Nuclear is great for baseload needs, but with advanced technologies such as high temperature reactors and high temperature electrolysis, we can use nuclear to decarbonise not just electricity, heat but also transportation fuels and many industries."

"Most of the district heating networks in the area are interconnected, so it makes sense to include the whole area in the study," said Pennanen. He noted that Espoo and Kirkkonummi have also expressed interest in studying the use of advanced reactors.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News