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Europe’s largest reactor enters service in Finland

Finland’s next-generation Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor has gone into regular production after months of delays, producing on its own around 14% of the country’s electricity, its operator Teollisuuden Voima (TVO) has said.

The European pressurised water reactor (EPR), already more than 12 years behind schedule, was supposed to come fully online in December, but the start was pushed back several times during its testing phase.

“Test production has been completed and regular electricity production started today,” TVO said.

“From now on, about 30% of Finnish electricity is produced in Olkiluoto,” which already had two reactors.

Finland had been expecting to rely on the new reactor for its electricity needs this winter, given fears of energy shortages after Russia, a major supplier to Europe, invaded Ukraine.

The most powerful nuclear reactor in Europe, with a capacity of generating 1,600 megawatts, Olkiluoto 3 reached full power in late September for the first time since construction began in 2005.

The French-developed EPR was designed to relaunch nuclear power in Europe after the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986, and was touted as offering higher power and better safety.

But EPR projects in Finland, France and Britain have been plagued by delays and cost overruns.

OL3, the third fully operational reactor of the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant

The reactor will boost energy security in a region to which Russia has cut gas and power supplies.

Nuclear power remains controversial in Europe, primarily due to safety concerns, and news of OL3’s start-up comes as Germany switched off its last three remaining reactors, while Sweden, France, Britain and others plan new developments.

TVO, which is owned by Finnish utility Fortum and a consortium of energy and industrial companies, has said the unit is expected to meet around 14% of Finland’s electricity demand, reducing the need for imports from Sweden and Norway.

Construction of the 1.6 gigawatt (GW) reactor, Finland’s first new nuclear plant in more than four decades and Europe’s first in 16 years, began in 2005.

The plant was originally due to open four years later, but was plagued by technical issues.

OL3 first supplied test production to Finland’s national power grid in March last year and was expected at the time to begin regular output four months later, but instead suffered a string of breakdowns and outages that took months to fix.

As a result of the startup, analysts have said Finland, the only Nordic country with a large power deficit, can expect lower electricity costs.

Russia’s power exports to Finland ended last May when Russian utility Inter RAO said it had not been paid for the energy it sold, a consequence of the widening gulf between Moscow and Europe over the war in Ukraine.

Russian state export monopoly Gazprom shortly after ended shipments of natural gas to the Nordic nation.