Finland's long-delayed Olkiluoto three nuclear reactor granted operating licence

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland’s government has issued an operating permit for the long-delayed Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment said on Thursday, one of the final requirements to allow the plant to start up in 2020.

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the unfinished Olkiluoto-3 nuclear reactor in Eurajoki, Finland August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lefteris Karagiannopoulos/File Photo

The permit, the first one issued for 40 years, is a major milestone for the 1.6 gigawatt reactor. Finland is a net power-importer and wants to cut its dependency on Russia and Sweden.

Olkiluoto 3 still requires a final licence from nuclear regulator STUK to allow it to load fuel and start production.

“Today we can state that the facility is ready and it fulfils Finland’s requirements,” Kimmo Tiilikainen, the minister for energy, housing and environment, told a news conference after the government issued its licence.

The plant’s owner, Teollisuuden Voima (TVO), has waited for more than 10 years for delivery of the unit by Areva, now renamed Orano. The original start-up target date was 2009.

Once the reactors starts, 90 percent of Finland’s electricity needs would be met by domestic production, up from the 80 percent now, Tiilikainen said.

Unlike Germany, Sweden and some other European Union nations, Finland has opted to invest in nuclear energy, partly to cut its carbon dioxide emissions and to meet climate targets.

The reactor is Finland’s fifth and the first new nuclear facility in four decades. A project by a Finnish-Russian consortium to a sixth reactor is underway.

TVO Chief Executive Jarmo Tanhua told the news conference that the permit showed the new reactor was safe.

STUK said in February that operator TVO and the plant’s supplier needed to fix a safety issue in a component of the reactor’s pressurizer before it could grant that licence.

TVO said at the time that it had chosen a solution and the malfunctioning equipment would be fixed within months. The company said on Thursday that it did not expect the fix to delay the start up.

Writing by Lefteris Karagiannopoulos in Oslo; Editing by Gwladys Fouche and Edmund Blair