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Thursday's papers: Did govt pressure Fortum? Did Fortum mislead shareholders? How do folks in Pyhäjoki feel about a nuclear power plant?

Thursday’s dailies digest news that majority state-owned energy giant Fortum has stepped in to save the proposed Fennovoima nuclear power plant from being mothballed over insufficient domestic or European ownership in the project. Fortum's surprise announcement Wednesday that it would support the project has opened up a Pandora's box of speculation about the move.

Olli Rehn
Economic Affairs Minister Olli Rehn denied that government had put any pressure on majority state-owned Fortum to support the stalling Fennovoima nuclear power project. Image: Anni Reenpää / Lehtikuva

Since Wednesday’s apparent flip-flop by Fortum, which previously said it would not make a decision about buying into the northwest Finland nuclear project before sealing a major hydroelectric deal in Russia, journalists have been probing the reason for the change of direction.

Leading circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat writes that Economic Affairs Minister Olli Rehn said Wednesday that Fortum’s change of heart had nothing to do with government pressure. He said during a press conference that the construction company SRV, steel maker Outokumpu and Fortum – all of whom announced Wednesday that they would support the project – acted independently.

"These three companies made their own decisions completely independently," Rehn declared.

"There have been discussions of course, but each company makes its own independent decisions," Rehn added.

The paper reports that Green Party chair Ville Niinistö accused the government of pulling strings in the background. He queried why Fortum decided to sign up for the Pyhäjoki project, even though it had not yet settled the hydroelectric deal with Russian energy company TGC-1.

"Why did Rehn go to Moscow and who pressured Fortum?" Niinistö asked.

The Finnish cabinet is to formally decide on Thursday whether to approve the long-debated project.

IS: Minority shareholders claim Fortum gave "misleading information"

The tabloid daily Ilta Sanomat probes deeper into Fortum’s u-turn on the Fennovoima project, pointing out that as recently as June, the company’s interim chief executive Timo Karttinen had described the proposed nuclear plant and the Russian hydroelectric project as "part of a complete solution, both elements of which would have to be realised."

The paper interviewed chair of the Confederation of Shareholders Associations Timo Rothovius, who charged that the company had distributed "misleading information" about its future plans.

"It is clearly misleading information. When they changed their minds they should have issued a stock exchange release once they changed their position. They didn’t do this and clearly did not disclose the information they should have by law," Rothovius observed, calling on financial supervisory authorities to probe the case.

Market supervisor Anu Lassila-Lonka of the Financial Supervisory Authority said that the watchdog does not comment on the actions of individual companies but she did acknowledge that stock-listed companies have a duty to inform the market of essential information affecting the value of their securities, as defined by Securities Markets Act.

"If there is a substantial change to previously published information, the company should disclose it. Because disclosures should be consistent," Lassila-Lonka told IS.

However she pointed out that at the end of the day the company itself determines what information is important enough to warrant disclosure.

Pyhäjoki residents anticipate jobs, surge in business prospects

Tampere-based Aamulehti meanwhile visited Pyhäjoki, where the now-controversial nuclear power plant is to be constructed, to gauge reaction to the news that the project has been given a new lease on life. The paper interviewed local business owners, such as landlords Suvi and Mikko Salmela, who said they will benefit from being able to rent dozens of homes to workers.

Local mayor Matti Soronen said that he too was satisfied with the news of Fortum’s involvement in the project, adding that the company would bring much-needed energy sector expertise on board. He also said that he was looking forward to the jobs to be created in the construction phase.

Lead contractor for the project Titan2 said it will aim to employ as many Finnish subcontractors as possible to spread the benefits of the undertaking. Logistics director Tanja Smirnova-Palosaari said that the first public tenders for services had already begun. She called on as many local businesses as possible to register on the company’s website for a chance to cash in on the possible contracts.

However the environmental group Pro-Hanhikivi, named after the peninsula where the plant will rise out of the ground, continues to oppose the nuclear facility. Deputy chair and local Green MP Hanna Halmeenpää speculated that the bulk of the workforce would not come from Finland, adding that she did not expect the project to even reach the 50 percent domestic employment level targeted.

She also warned that the local municipality, which had so far been solvent, was now taking on high-risk debt. She pointed to plans to channel condensation water frm the plant into the sea and raised the issue of the final resting place of nuclear waste generated once the plant is up and running.

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