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Economy Minister Rehn defends Fennovoima U-turn, says facts have changed

Economic Affairs Minister Olli Rehn says he has changed his opinion about new nuclear power capacity in Finland after Fortum’s decision to climb aboard the Fennovoima nuclear power project. Writing in his blog from Brussels last year, Rehn had previously found no merit in the proposed Pyhäjoki venture.

Olli Rehn
Economic Affairs Minister Olli Rehn. Image: Yle

Economic Affairs Minister Olli Rehn has come in for heavy criticism for what critics saw as a complete 180-degree turn in his previous opposition to Fennovoima’s planned nuclear power plant in Pyhäjoki, northern Finland.

On Wednesday, Rehn praised the decision of the majority state-owned energy company Fortum to purchase a stake in the project, in the process bringing domestic ownership up to the 60-percent threshold required for construction to move forward.

"Above all, it’s a question of if the facts change, then I can change my position. What was important for me was whether or not the project had sufficient Finnish ownership and expertise. Now that Fortum has joined, it has, and the facts have changed," Rehn said.

Last year Rehn wrote in his blog that the clamour around Russian nuclear contractor Rosatom seemed to be spawning a new and dismal basis for energy and industrial policy. In his role as EU Commissioner at the time, Rehn added that a financially insecure and politically perverse nuclear plant constructed by Russians would sideline needed investments in green and renewable energy for years to come.

"It’s very blunt text. With Fortum’s involvement the situation has changed substantially. In my blog I also wrote that it is difficult to grasp why a decision wasn’t taken in the beginning to renew the Loviisa nuclear power plant. In Finland electricity production represents more than one-fifth of all electricity production. It’s better that it be produced in Finland so that we can free ourselves from black carbon energy," Rehn observed.

"Russian visit no impact on Fortum decision"

Now that Fortum and other Finnish investors such as construction company SRV and steelmaker Outokumpu have stepped in to save the Fennovoima nuclear power project, the process of securing a construction permit will begin. Economy Minister Rehn estimated that the procedure will take at least two years.

"At this stage the ownership issue has been clarified. Now we can begin the normal process involving a construction permit according to nuclear energy legislation," Rehn said.

The minister denied allegations that the proposed nuclear plant was the subject of a visit to Russia in July.

"The purpose of the visit was to shed light on the situation. In spite of sanctions and the European security situation we must maintain dialogue with Russia – especially in relation to energy policy. In this regard Russia is not monolithic, it has many different players. In energy policy it’s important to act long term, because these projects are lengthy," Rehn noted.

Rehn also stressed that the government did not twist Fortum’s arm to go along with the Pyhäjoki project.

"The government didn’t force Fortum, rather the company made a completely independent decision based on its own business. Fortum is an independent listed company that makes its own decisions and is responsible for them," Rehn added.

He did not want to speculate on whether or not Fortum’s involvement in the Fennovoima project would complicate its bid for a controlling interest in a hydroelectric facility in Russia.

"Negotiations always have a starting point and everything isn’t always revealed in the early stages of discussions. However positions may change during the course of negotiations. It is my understanding that the talks are continuing and that possible solutions still exist," Rehn declared.

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