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Cablegate: Codel Hobson Visit to Finland

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

Introduction and Summary

1. Summary. CODEL Hobson -- House Appropriations Energy and
Water Development Subcommittee Chairman David Hobson (R-OH),
Representative Ed Pastor (D-AZ), Representative Marion Berry
(D-AR), Representative James Clyburn (D-SC), and
Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA) -- visited Finland,
August 18-21. On August 19, the CODEL met with Taisto
Turunen, Director General, Energy Department, Ministry of
Trade and Industry (MTI). Turunen warmly welcomed the
Delegation to Finland and Representative Hobson remarked
that one of the Delegation's principal objectives was to
learn more about Finland's nuclear energy policy, including
its nuclear waste disposal strategies. More specifically,
Representative Hobson argued that the United States has a
unique "window of opportunity" to re-think the direction of
its own nuclear energy policy in an effort to confront
rising gasoline prices and curb fossil fuel emissions. The
Delegation also visited Eurajoki for briefings on the new
Olkiluoto nuclear power plant, its repository for reactor
operating waste, and an underground rock characterization
and research facility. The Delegation concluded its visit
with a briefing by the Director-General of Finland's
Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK), Jukka
Laaksonen. End Summary.

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2. Issues covered during the visit included Finland's
national nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal
strategies; selection and licensing processes for repository
sites; the process for securing municipality support for
repository construction; radiation standards for licensing
repositories; canister design, transportation and storage;
and Finland's future nuclear energy strategies.

3. The Finns, who now are building a fifth nuclear reactor
in Eurajoki (and the first nuclear power plant on either
side of the Atlantic in at least a decade), agreed with the
CODEL that nuclear power has an important role to play in
the search for cleaner (low carbon) energy sources. They
stressed, however, that every country had to devise its own
strategies for managing nuclear energy and waste
requirements. The Finnish "experience" was hardly
applicable for the United States as geographical,
geological, and meteorological factors in both countries
were different, not to mention the existence of diverse
political and legislative systems in both countries. The
national consensus in Finland was to pursue a nuclear energy
policy that reduced carbon dioxide emissions and increased
nuclear power production to meet the greenhouse gas emission
targets set for Finland in the Kyoto Protocol. In addition,
the Finns highlighted the cost effectiveness of their
nuclear energy policy and its market/consumer-driven nature
that relies on extensive input from all the principal
players in Finland's public and private sectors.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Meeting with MTI Director General Taisto Turunen
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. Turunen gave the CODEL a brief overview of the
production, consumption, and supply trends underpinning
Finland's energy policy. He explained that Finland's energy
sector is driven by active market forces in the highly
competitive Nordic region. (Note: The Electricity Market
Act, which came into force in 1995, has resulted in the
deregulation of the Finnish electricity market for three
million electricity consumers, thus allowing them to choose
the sources of their electricity supply.) Representative
Pastor asked about which authority sets electricity prices
in Finland; in response, Turunen noted that there was no
regulation of electricity prices as they were driven by the
market. Representative Hobson inquired about the sources of
financing for Finland's nuclear power plants and Turunens
reply emphasized the role of the private sector and
consumers as the primary financiers. He said that the
Finnish Government does not provide any economic
contributions or financial guarantees for the project.

5. Turunen further remarked that Finlands high energy
consumption is attributable to the energy-intensive
structure of Finnish industry, high standards of living, a
very cold climate, and long transportation distances.
Finland remains heavily dependent on imported energy, which
in 2004 accounted for 67 per cent of all energy consumed in
the country. (Note: Finland imports electricity from
Norway, Russia and Sweden.) To meet Finlands current and
future energy requirements, Turunen said that the Finnish
government was forced to examine other sources of energy,
such as nuclear power and biofuels. Finnish forecasts
predict that the construction of Finlands third nuclear
power plant in Eurajoki (Olkiluoto site) with an output of
1600 MW will be completed in 2009. With its completion,
nuclear power will undoubtedly emerge as one of Finlands
principal energy sources. Turunen dismissed the notion, at
this time, that Finland had plans to build a sixth nuclear
power plant.

6. During Turunens presentation, Representative Hobson
also emphasized the importance of attracting American
university students into highly technical fields, such as
nuclear engineering, and inquired whether the Finnish
educational system produced enough graduates in these
specialized areas. Turunen replied that there were no
shortages of qualified engineering students in Finland. He
also noted with some pride that Finlands nuclear energy
policy was widely accepted by the Finnish public. (Note:
Turunen cited a 46 per cent approval rate and 25 per cent
disapproval rate for nuclear power in Finland. High
approval ratings appear to be rooted in the widespread
belief amongst the Finnish public that nuclear power remains
safe as there have been no minor or major nuclear
environmental incidents in Finland thus far. End note.)

7. Representative Pastor asked about the licensing
processes for the new nuclear power plant, specifically, who
was responsible for the authorization of the construction
license. Turunen replied that the Council of State grants
the license and, in reply, Representative Hobson made the
observation that there were far too many legal challenges to
licensing applications in the United States. Turunen argued
that the Finnish way: the achievement of a popular
national consensus on any given issue precluded any
effective legal motions to block government plans in the
nuclear energy policy area.

Visit to Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant

8. The CODEL next met with Posivas Communications Manager,
Timo Seppala. Posiva is responsible for the
characterization of sites for final disposal of spent
nuclear fuel and the eventual construction and operation of
the repository. It is owned by Fortum (60 per cent stake),
a leading energy company in the Nordic countries and Baltic
rim, as well as TVO (40 per cent stake), an electricity
production company. The CODEL was given an opportunity to
speak to local politicians and businessmen from the
municipality and a trade promoter about the nature of their
political decision making processes and location and safety
issue deliberations. (Note: Each Finnish participant was in
favor of the construction of a new nuclear plant and
repository.) The politicians stressed the important role
the local municipality played during the initial and final
consultations to locate another nuclear power plant and
nuclear fuel repository at the Olkiluoto site. The
politicians remarked that unemployment was high in the
region (10.6 per cent) and that there was an economic
rationale for building another power plant and repository on
the same site. The local municipality also hoped that the
creation of new jobs would, in turn, stimulate the local
economic environment.

9. The CODEL was given a unique opportunity to visit
Olkiluotos low and intermediate level waste repository.
Completed in 1992, the repository was built to house all the
operational waste that is produced during the operating life
of the present Olkiluoto nuclear power units. Once the
waste generated by these plants has been disposed of the
tunnels and shafts leading to the repositories will be
filled and sealed. The CODEL asked Seppala to explain the
components of the final disposal canister; he, in turn,
referred the CODEL to the model of a final disposal canister
which had a double-layered copper/cast iron construction and
cost approximately $120,000 each.

10. The CODELs brief drive-by visit to a deep underground
rock characterization and research facility (ONKALO) was an
opportunity for Seppala to discuss the nature of the site
confirmation investigations for spent fuel disposal. Posiva
aims to have the repository operational by 2020 so that
disposal can commence.

--------------------------------------------- -------
Meeting with STUKs Director General Jukka Laaksonen
--------------------------------------------- -------

11. Laaksonen gave an extensive presentation on the
management of nuclear waste in Finland. He stressed the
need for the safe disposal of nuclear waste and spent fuel
by using proven, current technologies as well as the desire
not to leave nuclear waste as a burden for future
generations. His support for what he described as an
ethical dimension of Finlands nuclear energy policy became
obvious when he noted that this generation must take care
of its own waste. He also pointed out that it was critical
for Finland to manage its nuclear waste without foreign
support. In this context, he highlighted the continued
relevance of the two major principles underlying Finlands
Nuclear Energy Act (1994): (1) nuclear waste generated in
Finland shall be handled, stored and permanently disposed of
in Finland, and (2) nuclear waste generated elsewhere than
in Finland, shall not be handled, stored or permanently
disposed of in Finland.

12. Finland currently provides for the permanent disposal
of low and medium level nuclear waste at two disposal
repositories (Olkiluoto and Loviisa), which are located at a
depth of 60-100 meters. There are plans to store spent fuel
in a new repository located in Olkiluoto (to be completed in
2020) at a depth of 500 meters. When asked by a CODEL
staffer to compare U.S. and Finnish permanent disposal
plans, Laaksonen noted that Finlands plan took all factors,
technical and political into account. Representative Hobson
asked whether STUK had examined French recycling efforts as
an option for disposing spent fuel. Laaksonen argued that
cost factors prohibited the implementation of a similar
operation in Finland. Hobson also argued that it would be
useful for the United States to launch a review of whether
more cost effective alternatives could be found for nuclear
waste disposal canisters. Laaksonen replied that STUK was
confident that double-layered copper/cast iron disposal
canisters, placed in a bed of bentonite, offered the safest
and most effective protection for the disposal of nuclear

13. When asked by Representative Hobson whether any Finnish
lawyers ever challenged the government about its nuclear
energy or waste disposal policies, Laaksonen remarked that
Finnish lawyers were not as powerful as in the United States
and that hardly any issue pertaining to this area ever ended
up in the Finnish court system. The CODEL acknowledged with
great interest Laaksonens remark that national governments
were rejecting efforts by the EU to coordinate European
guidelines for nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal.
According to Laaksonen, the only pertinent international
organization was the International Atomic Energy Agency,
whose guidelines Finland adhered to.

14. The CODEL has cleared this cable.


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