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Uncertainty over Fennovoima nuclear project worries local developers

Doubt about whether a nuclear project will go ahead is worrying landowners in the northern Finnish municipality of Pyhäjoki, reports STT.

The construction site on the Hanhikivi peninsula. Image: Timo Sipola / Yle

Many landowners in Northern Ostrobothnia are holding off planned construction of their own while waiting to see whether a construction license will be approved for the proposed Fennovoima nuclear power station. It is to be built in Pyhäjoki, about 100 km south of Oulu.

Municipal director Matti Soronen told the Finnish news agency STT that the owners of a number of plots of land have applied for extensions on their own building permits so that they can postpone breaking ground.

The Fennovoima consortium says it expects to obtain a construction license for next year for what would be the nation’s third nuclear power plant – and its first entirely new one in more than four decades. Fennovoima has signed a contract with RAOS Project, a subsidiary of Russian state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom, to build the Hanhikivi plant. The Russian firm owns 34 percent of Fennovoima.

So far Fennovoima has only provided a fraction of the documents needed for the application process to the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK).

The company has pledged to deliver them all by the end of this year. It had originally hoped to attain the permit this year.

Soronen explains that two residential areas are affected, with a total of about 155 plots for detached and semi-detached homes. The municipality has already built about 100 new homes in recent years in anticipation of the building of the plant.

"Significant risk"

Also under construction is the Ollinmäki industrial zone, which is expected to attract businesses on the coattails of the plant construction if it becomes a reality. The municipality’s website indicates that there is still plenty of empty space in the area.

One developer who spoke to STT on condition of anonymity says that the financial risk in the local real estate market is "significant at the moment". The developer, who owns a number of properties in Pyhäjoki and neighbouring Kalajoki, does not plan to begin any construction until there is a decision on Fennovoima’s application.

The timetable for that remains open.

“Since quite little of the material has been delivered to us and it will continue to be submitted piecemeal, that has its own impact on how we can look at the whole [project],” STUK’s deputy director Tapani Virolainen tells STT.

“Certainly this year and next year will mainly be spent on processing the construction permit documents and forming an overall view,” he adds.

Concerns over safety culture

Based on the material provided, STUK will release a safety evaluation. The final decision on a building license will be made by the government – likely after next spring’s elections.

In an interim report published in May, STUK expressed concerns about the Hanhikivi project’s safety culture, and said that improving it would be a prerequisite for obtaining a licence.

“Safety had not been placed as a primary target, and there has not yet been any major change in that,” Virolainen says.

RAOS Project’s PR manager, Outi Pelkonen, insists that STUK’s comments have been taken seriously, noting that all employees have taken a safety course and that “much work has been done on safety”.