Siirry sisältöön

COP26 – Marching for… What exactly? – Day 5

Friday was a big day. Fridays for Future organised a climate march, which pretty much took us the whole day. But there we went, Melty (the polar bear) costumes and all. For me (a Finnish introvert who likes to be alone or among a few good friends), big demonstrations like this, with thousands and thousands of people chanting, singing and shouting, are quite demanding. But what am I gonna do? Not play my part? Nah.

Preparing for the demonstration at a local (lovely) cafeteria called ”Grumpy Barista”.
Polar bears getting ready as the march is about to start.

Instead of agitating, screaming and shouting, I chose to observe. What are we all doing? Are we going to the same direction? Or are these events just shouting matches on who is the loudest to bring out their angle? One one hand, we had some labour union folks there, no doubt wanting a just transition and good union jobs also in the future we were all walking towards. Better wages mean more consumption. Then again, there were degrowthers and extinction rebellion folks, calling for a rapid decline of our energy use. This, of course, means less jobs, less wages, less education, less social security, less modern health care, less services – as it is precisely the high productivity gained through modern technology and energy use that enables all those nice things.

We shared goals with some labor unions. Nuclear workers are climate heroes, and need to be treated like as such (instead of the often terrible treatment they get today in many countries).
Everybody wanted something. We wanted clean nuclear power, now!

Then there were anti-capitalists, whose position seems to be blaming the way we have organised our economy on all (or most) of our problems, many of them demanding socialism (of the communist-type, not the social democratic type) instead. Yet there is little evidence that any socialism-projects have yielded much better results when balancing human welfare and the environmental impact of creating that welfare. So, while I do see that there are big faults and problems in how our economy is currently organised, I would hope for a bit more nuance and analysis when proposing alternatives. Wanting change for the sake of change, without much idea or evidence that the alternative would be any better, is perhaps not the greatest idea. And yeah, I know I sound like a boomer, but there you go. I used to have quite radical ideas myself. Today, I still have radical ideas, but I try to constantly challenge them and poke holes in them to find any weaknesses to make them more useful instead of just radical.

There were a bunch of us, including Ninja’s against climate change.

Sure, obviously a public demonstration is hardly the place to go look for this kind of nuanced analysis, but that is also a bit of the point of this article’s headline. What are we marching for? A bunch of polarising, internally conflicting ideals and ideologies? Fine, I’m ok with that, but it is also good to acknowledge the situation that many of the groups here, seemingly marching for a common goal, might not agree on many, if not most, of the details on how to get there.

Melty folllows science. So do I.

Our crew got a lot of good discussions and attention from other protesters and the media. Of course there was the angry man who turned aggressive towards some of us (why does it have to be the smallest female of our group, I do not know. We also had a 2+ metres tall medical doctor available for his outburst). Luckily the other Finn at the march, Tea Törmänen, was there to calm the man down and eventually even managing to shift his position on growth, nuclear and other stuff. At least a bit.

As proof of the media interest (and the power of Melty the polar bear), BBC published this ”protest in pictures”, featuring our two Meltys (the back of my head was also caught on camera, yay!)

After the march, which took the better part of the day, we went to a pub for some refreshments before the high-level cocktail event of the evening that we managed to get ourselves invited into. The very ”cream”, as we are called, lol. Cream or not, it was so nice to see many of the friends and colleagues I had been missing for years due to the plague, but I also got some mixed feelings from the evening. There were most of the heads of all the nuclear associations and institutes, one after the other giving (luckily short) speeches. It was very much welcome news that each of them said that nuclear is finally getting a seat at the table and that it needs to be ready to deliver and expand. Yes. For years I have been afraid that it will be the nuclear industry that will be the last one to awake, and that we need to drag it, kicking and screaming, to do its part. Everyone was also thanking the absolutely fabulous work that the young generation had done to get the amount of attention that they had.

The other side of this is that still, the industry and its trade associations and institutions could and should do much more to actually help with the work, the advocacy. And I know that it is sometimes hard or bureaucratic or something, and some of us prefer to NOT take any financial support from the industry anyway. But some are in a situation where they are doing tremendous amount of work and would very much like (and more importantly, would NEED) to get some compensation from it. These people don’t have mid/high level executive paychecks. Some of them barely scrape by, yet the industry sort of ”freerides” on their hard work, at least to a degree. And this observation is based on the discussions I had with some of the volunteers, not just my own thinking.

Without the work done by non-industry nuclear advocates and activists around the world, tirelessly making it more and more acceptable to support nuclear and bring up the environmental benefits of the technology (something that the nuclear utilities and and the industry as a whole has neglected to do in any serious fashion, except for the last couple years), I estimate it a very high chance that the nuclear industry would still be in the gutter, slowly suffocating, along with any hope of mitigating climate change on time.

So, yes, say thanks and show appreciation, but also, please actively look for ways to help these people, us, in our work. Some of us actually won’t mind taking some money for their work (and are not afraid to be called ”industry shills” for making a living). Some of us could use help and resources for example in the organising and planning of these kinds of events and big pushes – something that a nuclear company’s comm’s department might very well have expertise and knowhow to offer. At least I hope so!

It feels unreasonable that engineering students and junior engineers ”get to” fully plan and organise two-week long series of events in a highly demanding setting (Plague and strict security), to shepherd 100 or so volunteers and try to keep everything together. And they get to do it without any relevant training or compensation or help, and they need to do it on their own time, over weekends and evenings. And don’t get me wrong, they did absolutely amazing work! And I think their work here, at this COP, will reverberate for decades to come, and will end up potentially saving billions and billions of tons of CO2 emissions from being released. Yeah, it was that good. It was that much needed.

So, it might be a good idea for the companies and associations and institutes out there to think of ways in which they could help with all this the next time. Offer to help, offer assistance, ask if something is needed, have a budget for it just in case. We can always say ”no, thank you” if we think it is not appropriate or if we want to go about our advocacy on our own. But the lack of resources and support is also holding many of us back in a serious way. And we cannot hold back, but push forwards with all our strength and skill and will. For future generations and for all the life on our only planet.

I am writing this in the plane, on my way back home. It was a memorable week, and many of us are staying in Glasgow to face another one. Thank you for doing that, and I hope to meet you all again. This is Rauli, checking out from COP26, Glasgow.


COP26 – Look mom, I’m on the Internet! – Day 4

It’s already Thursday! How time flies. But a good Thursday. I did a nice (but also a bit strange) panel discussion that was streamed live. Why was it strange, I hear you ask? Well, we had a couple of the other presenters participating online through a video connection, and the technology failed us in a way that we could barely hear anything they were saying. But still, we soldiered through (will try to add the link when I get one).

Later, I attended the IAEA event. It is really nice to see IAEA getting their act together and seriously promoting nuclear for climate mitigation. Some of the highlights were:

  • Nuclear REALLY needs to be at the table when solutions are being discussed. And even if you might not believe this (as it is simply so ridiculous) that has not been the case so far!
  • The Minister of energy and minerals of Brazil stated that Brazil targets to build 10 GW of new nuclear in the next 10 years. Thats great!
  • NuScale (and the White House) have singed a deal with Romania/Nuclearelectrica to potentially build a 6-reactor NuScale power plant in Romania., by 2028 To quote: ”In a joint statement, NuScale and Nuclearelectrica said they will sign a teaming agreement to ”advance clean nuclear technology in Romania. Following the partnership, Romania has the potential to accommodate the first deployment of SMRs in Europe.””
  • And we had Juha Poikola from Finland stating that not only will Finland be the first country to build a final repository for spent fuel, but we can also be the first country to build a small nuclear reactor, perhaps to heat one of our cities. Why is this? Due to the high and increasing political acceptance, as our municipal politicians in several cities are already planning on finding a site for a small reactor for district heating.
IAEA DG Rafael Mariano Grossi leading the panel.

Arun and Miguel from our network also got interviewed for the German media outlet ZDF. Excellent work guys! I mean, how often you can hear ”Atomkraft, ja bitte!” on German national media and get away with it! Follow this link at around timestamp 20:00 to check it out.

Arun, nailing it on German national TV.

COP26 – 100 Million Barrels of Oil a Day – Day 3

On Wednesday, our crew split into two. Me and my colleague and friend Tea Törmänen went to a special side event at the Blair Estate, organised by TerraPraxis and others. To get there, we jumped into Mark Lynas’ VW ID3 (an electric vehicle). Too bad that when he picked me up at our accommodation (in the picture), he had only 60 miles of range left, which would be stretching it to get to our destination (which had a bit uncertain charging options as well).

Our accommodation. What a lovely place.

”Shit. Broken. Shit. Out of order. Shit. All out of order”, was Mark Lynas cursing as he tried to find a working fast charger we could stop on the way to get a bit more range. Most of the charging stations were broken. ”Imagine is 9 out of ten 10 gas stations didn’t have any gasoline to sell” I said to him. ”Well that was the situation a couple weeks ago, and everyone went nuts”, answered Mark. Good point. If we do want to see the EV revolution accelerate to its fullest, we seriously need to have a working infrastructure for charging as well. And I don’t think most people have yet realised that the growth requirements for material-flows and components manufacturing might be at odds with our targets and dreams for an EV rollout this decade.

Mark, ready to charge us up.

We did finally arrive, and from our first world problems of finding a charger for our fancy EV, we took a deep dive into another world. Don’t get me wrong, the Blair Estate was quite fabulous, and lacked in nothing. But the afternoon session we attended gave me pause. And, to be honest, it should give all the European policymakers pause.

The Blair Estate. Not the kind of place I routinely visit.

Not to make this too long and detailed, here is the situation. Maldives are already feeling the effects of climate change that people told them (not that long ago) they would feel around 2100. The coral reefs around the 1,200 islands are pretty much the only natural resource they have. They protect the islands and drive tourism. They provide food through sustainable fisheries. But the reefs are ALREADY dying. This leads to the beaches and islands eroding, the water supply getting contaminated as storms get stronger and stronger. Every rain season is another disaster. The Maldives have no technology and no financing to do much about it. And here we are in Europe infighting over which clean energy technology we should pick and which to leave out. I mean, seriously? Sometimes I’m so ashamed to be a human.

Enter Kenya. Everyone (in the rich west) is assuming Africa will stay poor and not use that much more energy in the future, and we pretty much base our climate roadmaps on that assumptions. But that is a dangerous and a wrong assumption. The households in Africa are getting electrified, though centralised and decentralised means. Through everything and anything they’ve got. The people are hungry for more prosperity, health and security – as they should. If we rich people want to see our vision of clean energy and climate roadmaps come true, we seriously need to see the reality in places like Africa and India. The situation is way different than one can imagine from the ivory halls of Brussels. We need actually useful and scalable solutions, and we need cheap financing for them toi scale, fast.

The panel also had a representative from Shell, and IcelandAir. Recently, Shell managed to make and sell their first 100 liters of synthetic aviation fuel. Right. It’s a start, and everything does need a start I guess. But we are very, very far away from 100 million barrels per day of synthetic fuel. To take aviation fuel as an example, it would need to be carbon neutral, available at large scale AND comparable in cost to current fuels, according to IcelandAir presenter. Why? Because travel should not be just a thing for the Elite. And he is right. We need ”Impossible Burger” -solutions. Solutions that can scale like crazy, that fit into our current infrastructure, habits and cost-preferences. We need power density to keep the environmental footprint reasonable, and we need public acceptance for all this.

My question for the panel related to this. Let’s assume we can make massive amounts of affordable synthetic fuels with nuclear, but only if we get the right policies in plane. The policymakers, on the other hand, require public acceptance. Now, if one combines the oil industry (needed for making and delivering the fuels) and the nuclear industry (needed for providing the 24/7 affordable energy to make those fuels), what could ever go wrong from a public acceptance perspective… Did the people in the panel see this as a risk, and if yes, what would they do about it?

I mean, those are two of the least liked industries one could come up with at a moments notice, especially in the rich west (elsewhere, people are still too busy surviving and building a better life to have the luxury of complaining where their energy is coming from). And the thing is, with EU now forming their Sustainable Investment Taxonomy, with the rich west controlling the development banks, foreign aid and other funding, if there is no acceptance for a massive nuclear-based synthetic fuels production program, the developing world might never see these scaled-up, cost effective clean energy sources and fuels.

If we do not manage the public acceptance situation and push our politicians to make the right choices, we might never get the initial policy push that is needed to scale the technology and investments up and get costs down. A synthetic fuels industry delivered by the current fossil fuels industry and powered by the nuclear industry is just so huge and easy target for any of the multitude of ”environmental” anti-nuclear and anti-development NGO’s out there and the many politicians who listen to them. The rich think they can afford to pay higher energy costs (they can’t, not in the long term – we have just not yet realised this), so they don’t need to care.

All in all, it was wonderful to finally meet (or finally see again) some of the people I’ve been working with in the last several years, and no doubt will be working with also in the future.

A lot of really, really smart people in this picture, and me of course as well. 😛


But what was happening elsewhere, you might ask? A lot. A mother-load, as they say. For example, the Nuclear for Climate -crew had organised a ”Flash Mob”, essentially a dancing show downtown Glasgow, to promote nuclear energy for climate. I highly recommend you watch the video behind this link.

To be honest, I could not watch it without a tear or two rolling down my cheek. Tears of joy. Tears of relief. Tears of so much hope I feel when I see these people. Our people, doing beautiful and creative things like this. Not shouting and being angry at the world, angry at the ”adults” for not doing enough. Not being afraid or depressed or hopeless. Not being against everything, against even humanity itself. But being positive, being optimistic and putting themselves out there openly and without regret, promoting effective and proven solutions such as nuclear.

Solutions that so far, most of the (rich) world have refused to even consider seriously, let alone promote and support as they should. Solutions some people would rather bury and bury deep so nobody would ever find them, just because they don’t like it, or they have vested interests somewhere else. Let’s not let them do that.

We even got a billboard! How cool is that? #NetZeroNeedsNuclear.

Ps. Luckily, this change is already happening. One of the big announcements on Wednesday was the US Loan Programs Office having a $9 billion program for repowering coal plants with nuclear reactors in the US, protecting local economies and jobs from the shock of closing down local energy production. Another one was reported on Bloomberg on Tuesday. In it, China is stating that they will invest some $440 billion to build at least 150 new nuclear reactors in the next 15 years. That is what I call a good start. But there are almost 3,000 coal plants in China, with an average age of less than 10 years. Repowering those will be a huge, but also necessary, task.

COP26 – Bananas waiting in line – Day 2

It was an early and busy morning, but perhaps there was a lesson there. While we are participating, we have to self-administer a quick Covid test every day, send the result to the Government, get back their confirmation through SMS and then we show that at the gate. This morning, we also had to self-administer the more thorough PCR-test (by the second day of arrival) and then mail that to the Government. It takes time to scrub and sample, so I had barely time to get breakfast, as we were leaving the house at 8 am.

At 8:45, we, and our two full boxes of bananas, arrived to this. Oh well. Nothing like staying in a mass-queue for an hour I guess. At least the weather was nice, and we did get to chat with a journalist from The Economist. I guess carrying a box of bananas gets people curious and asking question…

Everybody just wants to be at the COP I guess.

Might as well stayed in bed for another hour or so, but there we were. And it didn’t get much better when we got into pre-security, as then we just got to stand in a queue inside. Not a social distance in sight in this one, I can tell you. Good thing everybody did their test that morning (although they are self-reported…)

At his point, I was almost there to the security check are. These people were not.

The point of the bananas was that we put some info-stickers on them and then started wandering around the hallways, handing people free bananas and getting to chat people about the fact that bananas are slightly radioactive (due to Potassium-40 in them, as well as a lot of other foods), and how that compares to the dreaded ”nuclear waste radiation.”

People. And bananas. And people as bananas.

And it was not just bananas. Remember the giant gummy bear from earlier? We also has smaller gummy bears, a full jar of them. Did you know that a gummy bear -sized uranium pellet contains as much energy as a ton of coal? Well, now you do, and so does many a visitor to the COP I guess.


The morning was full of excitement, so I guess it was worth standing in queue. At 11 a.m. Eric Meyer (whom we remember from Paris and pretty much every COP since) gave an interview for IAEA. He even got to singing a bit.

To see the video and hear Eric sing, here is a link to it.

Eric Meyer wrapping up with IAEA.

In the afternoon, the Nuclear for Climate booth was visited by non other that Rafael Mariano Grossi, the Director General of IAEA. In recent years and under his leadership, IAEA has finally fully embraced its mission and started to promote civilian nuclear energy as a good solution to climate change (link goes to a short videoon Twitter). This change has been a long awaited and a very welcome one!

Mr. Grossi stepping in for a quick visit at the Nuclear for Climate booth. So exciting, Im a big fan!

COP26 – We. Are. Big. – Day 1

It’s Monday and COP26 finally got underway, I had some good discussions and did some interviewing at the Nuclear for Climate booth in the Blue Zone. Nothing special, apart from a giant gummy bear and somehow us getting misinformed about the timing and/or place of Greta Thurnberg’s speech, which we tried to go see but miserably failed.

Yours truly, and a gummy bear,

The one thing that struck me, after attending these conferences since 2015, is the change. We had almost nobody coming to complain to us about our presence. In previous COP’s, the ”established” environmental/anti-nuclear organisations and the people working in them went out of their way to disregard and belittle us. It was much harder to get good conversations going regarding nuclear energy’s potential in climate mitigation.

In Paris, there was merely a handful of us (and still we were branded as ”the industry lobby”, which was sad both for us as we didn’t get a penny for our work, and sad for the nuclear industry if is really would have been the best they could do to send a couple poor writers as their ”lobby”, while in truth they didn’t even do that – not that they would have been welcome anyway, given that nuclear trade groups have been kicked out from COP’s time and time again while even fossil fuels have been welcomed.

Now, though, now we are many. When 6 years ago there was a few, now there are dozens of young activists and professionals, willing to give their face to the struggle. Our struggle for a more sensible and effective climate and energy policy. My heart is bursting with joy and pride. ❤

We are many.

And we have more and more support, more and more good discussions with interested people, people finally asking the all too important question we have been asking for years: ”Why is a proven tool like nuclear excluded from the climate toolkit? Why is Germany and others abandoning it, and to what end?”

Yours truly being interviewed regarding German energy policy and how it is causing the failure of German climate policy.

And if you remember Bonn, where we handed out hundreds of bananas with information stickers on them to other visitors and delegates, the stay tuned, as the Banana-Squad is back…

Banana-squad is coming…

COP26 – Chaos, Mayhem and Carnage? – Day 0

Sunday, the day of arrival, ended up being a memorable day for many, but not for the reasons people might have thought. My trip from Amsterdam to Glasgow, on the other hand, was boring and uneventful, as one hopes. But other people were not so lucky. The weather turned really bad throughout UK, with gail-force winds felling trees and branches on roads and bringing the whole railway system to its knees for hours. That’s with all the probably thousands of people trying to get into Glasgow by road and train from other parts of the UK. Not a good day, that.

Mr. Tree had a really, really bad day…

At first it seemed that the railways would be shut down for the whole day and people were told to try again tomorrow (and, apparently, just magically come up with a place to sleep wherever they were at the moment), but after several hours of waiting, some lines got moving again. And the people, the people did come, and finally, towards the evening started to arrive at Edinburgh, Glasgow and surrounding stations. Thats some wind power for you right there. Thank you for traveling by train :).

People thanking themselves for taking the train.

Myself, I took the plane (sorry, but sometimes, and actually quite often, convenience just wins the day. At least it was not a private jet like the big bosses did). And after taking Uber to one hotel to get our daily plague-tests done (and our sweet swag delivered to us), then walking to another restaurant for a quick bite and a pint, we took our minibus to the Blue Zone to get registered and ”badged”. After getting lost only once on the way, we made it with whole 7 minutes to spare before they closed down for the night.

Me and Astrid, badged and happy.

Meanwhile, the good people at Nuclear4Climate were getting the booth ready. Looks sweet. Hope to see you there!

Net Zero really does nee nuclear. More of it than most of us even dare to imagine (and yeah, I can imagine a lot).

COP26 – Countdown to Arrival – Diary day <0

On 1st of November, the COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow will begin. I will be there for the first week, trying to fight for more effective, pragmatic and evidence based climate and energy policy. If you know me, you might know that in other words, I will be fighting for nuclear power to be properly included and used to its full potential – instead of being ignored and even banned like so many times before. We really, really need to get our shit together, normalise how we see and treat nuclear. Otherwise this climate mitigation stuff will just go to shit.

And before you start getting any ideas of me getting nuclear industry to pay for my stay and work, I am here partly on my own expense, partly paid by a new European NGO called RePlanet (but more on that on later posts I guess – It’s REALLY exciting thou!).

My new report, commissioned by Ökomoderne E.v.. How much would Germany avoid CO2 emissions if it would keep the remaining 6 nuclear plants open? You guessed it, around one billion tons. That is a lot. It would enable Germany to quit coal burning by around 2028.

To help out, I am taking a couple dozen of the latest report I authored, called One Billion Tons – CO2 Reductions and a Faster Coal Exit in Germany. Get the pdf here, it is available both in English and in German.

This time, my trip started early as I was invited to give a presentation at a ”New Nuclear for the Netherlands Beyond 2030” -seminar in the Netherlands, at University of Twente campus. At the Helsinki Airport, the first headwind struck me, as right when I got my baggage checked in to the plane, my carry-on backpack’s zipper broke. It was a sleek anti-theft, all black business-backpack that I carried my laptop and other necessities in. And now it was falling apart in my hands, useless.

My new standard-issue travelling gear.
(Yes, I recently moved to Apple. The power/performance ratio of these new ones was just too much to resist).

”No worries!” I thought. ”I will just go to one of those fancy airport stores that sell expensive travel gear like bags and buy me a shiny new one!” Except, thanks to the Plague, none of those stores were open. What was open, was the Moomin-store, because surely people must not be denied their uplifting Moomin-merch even (and especially) in hard times such as these, right? They had lots of all kinds of Moomin-stuff. And surely enough, they also had a sleek, anti-zipper, black (and quite expensive) Moomin-backpack. I was saved, and so was, partly, the store owners slow day of business.

The next headwind struck me when I landed in Amsterdam and went (with 50 kg of books and reports in 4 separate luggage bags and backpacks strapped around me) to get a train that would take me closer to the University of Twente, where the seminar would be held on the next day. Except that the whole station was in a shutdown, as a train had caught fire at the station. I was starting to get nervous, because there was very little information about anything, and what little there was, was in Dutch (not one of my stronger languages, is Dutch). Eventually, with some help from strangers (they are the absolute best!), I managed to get myself on a train that went into the right direction.

From the train station, it was a good 10 km to the university campus hotel. So I went (again, with 50+ kg of stuff hanging on me or being dragged behind on loudly squeaking wheels) to the station’s taxi-pole. Except, there were no taxis there. After making my most ”tourist in distress” act since,.. well, since at the airport train-station a couple hours before I guess, another stranger offered to help me out. Long story short, I managed to book a taxi, and then when the website asked me for payment for the trip, the only options were local Dutch banks. So much for that taxi, I mean, it’s 2021, can we have Paypal or Apple pay or something like that please, everywhere? And yeah, this must be one of those 1st world problems, and it is also entirely possible that I just failed to understand something…

So I took the bus. Which meant that I had the unpleasure of dragging those books and reports all the way from the bus stop to the hotel, to the escalating sound of the wheels of my luggage screaming like I was murdering them, through the darkening university campus. But I prevailed, and so did the wheels, although the receptionist looked a bit alarmed when I finally crashed myself on his desk.

The next day, seminar was great, and people didn’t hate my presentation (on the contrary, got great feedback, even from the industry reps, whom I must have made a bit uncomfortable with some of my comments regarding the unhelpful stuff the industry is in the habit of doing and saying). The other presenters represented mostly the nuclear industry and utilities. Nuclear is really picking up in the Netherlands at the moment. The local utility that runs their only 500 MW plant today didn’t hold back, but clearly stated that ”yeah, we could use 2 or 3 GW of new nuclear, and we could put it right here (showing current site), but this also requires the government to support the idea.”

In the Netherlands, current policies are leading to around one fifth of energy use being CO2 free by 2035. I would laugh if I was not already crying.

Talking about support, he also showed the importance of low-cost financing, essentially doing a napkin-math version of ”nuclear NOT included in Taxonomy, cost of capital at 7%” and ”nuclear IS included in Taxonomy, cost of capital 4%”. The difference for the project was enormous. He also showed the utter failure that the current energy and climate policies are taking The Netherlands toward (see image). That was really eye-opening, and in a bad way.

When do we recognise this? Countries aim to decarbonise, and with proper government role and support (as we have for most other clean investments), that cost can be more than halved for investments like nuclear. And I mean, this is not ”cost” as in money used for more resources, mining minerals or additional labour. It’s additional money that we (as societies) give to bankers who create money with a few keystrokes when they make a loan. And the additional cost is there simply because we have bad and risky policies in place for certain investments. Makes no sense.

I would think it extremely worthwhile to keep those financing costs as low as possible, and government support, taxonomy, green finance, lower political risk, proper and effective market design are all ways to do that. It is our, and especially our policymakers’ choice to make how much our climate mitigation will cost, how risky it needs to be, and how it will redistribute wealth in our societies.

Ps. If you are interested in more context and COP-stories, see my diary from Poland (COP24), Germany (Bonn, COP23), and the one that started it all for me, COP21 in Paris.

German Industry Wants Others to Pay for Energiewende Costs

Germany has been an industrial powerhouse since it rebuilt its manufacturing capacity after the Second World War. Now, because of yet another ideological misventure called “The Energiewende”, it risks losing its industrial competitiveness once more. And it wants everyone to split the bill.

In 2020, when the German EU presidency was upon us, German energy-intensive industries raised their voices in lobbying. Metal-processing industries[1] as well as other energy-intensive companies[2] called for what they call “A European power price for industry.” It is, in essence, just that: a common electricity price for industrial power users in EU.

As a reason for this, the industries state that power prices in Germany are too high and fluctuating. This is, of course, a direct result of German energy policy of closing nuclear power and adding renewables with the help of significant feed-in-tariffs and other subsidies. The situation will likely only get worse as Germany closes the rest of their nuclear power plants prematurely in 2021 and 2022 and struggles to meet its emissions reduction targets by adding more variable renewable energy production.

Right now, German energy intensive industries are exempt from paying the EEG surcharge that is used to pay the tariffs for renewable energy producers. As Germany needs more and more of wind, solar and biomass to get to their emissions reduction targets, while simultaneously ensuring grid stability gets harder and costlier, the energy intensive industries are maybe seeing the writing on the wall: they will need to start chipping in sooner or later, increasing their energy costs further.

All of this would hurt German industrial competitiveness, jobs, perhaps push more investments into other EU countries with stable and low-cost electricity down the road. No wonder they suggest a common electricity price for EU industry.

Now, solidarity is one thing, but this is something the German government knowingly wanted, planned for, and meticulously implemented in their country. It is no accident, nor is it anyone else’s doing. You made your bed, now you lie on it. Or if you want things to be different, then you change them within Germany, not by exporting your problems to your neighbors.

Further, the Germans have been pushing their Energiewende and anti-nuclear agenda on everyone else for decades. They have systematically worked to get nuclear excluded from EU taxonomy on sustainable financing, Green New Deal and Covid-relief programs, making nuclear more expensive and discouraging anyone from investing in it and making decarbonization needlessly expensive for everyone. And now they want everyone to also pay for their domestic mess?

Other EU countries should perhaps go opposite direction and start serious nuclear programs, along with renewable energy programs most already have. Not only would this help keep EU on track to meet its climate targets, it might indirectly help Germany and other anti-nuclear countries in EU as well. The more we have low emissions energy supply, the lower prices for emissions credits in the emissions trading system (ETS) will be. As the EU agreed on tightening its emissions reduction targets to better comply with the Paris agreement we have signed, the ETS prices have skyrocketed from their 2020 levels in 2021. As Germany and other no-nuclear countries are bound to be more reliant on fossil fuels to keep their lights on and industry humming while they build-up their renewable energy sources, this can be good news for them as well.

ENDNOTE: I wrote this piece already back in 2020, but forgot to publish it anywhere so that’s why it is a bit dated in places. I did do some minor updates.



Chernobyl Nuclear Accident – What Happened?

The Dark Horse – Nuclear Power and Climate Change

This is a sample chapter from our recent book The Dark Horse – Nuclear Power and Climate Change (link to Amazon store). The book was published in 2020, and this article came out on the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. It is our effort to counter the misinformation out there regarding the most serious nuclear accident of our history and what its impacts are.


By far the most serious nuclear power plant accident happened on 26th of April, 1986, in Chernobyl nuclear power station, in what is currently Ukraine. The hydrogen/steam explosion in the core and the fire that followed spread large amounts of radioactive matter to the immediate surroundings as well as farther away. Some emergency workers received radiation doses so high that they died due to acute radiation poisoning and its later complications during the next few years. The raging fire in the core lifted the lighter radioactive particles high into the air and during the following days, winds blew them across Europe, where they fell with rainfall.

The fallout was so severe in the nearby areas that people had to be evacuated. Officials should have distributed iodine pills to the public and advised them not to eat vegetables or drink milk produced in the area, since they were contaminated with iodine-131. But Soviet officials dropped the ball. Without their paranoid secrecy on all things nuclear, the health effects would have been much lower.

As it is with all things, nuclear reactors can be designed well, or less well. They can also be designed horribly. This category is reserved for the RBMK, which was the type of reactor in Chernobyl. It was designed in the 1950s, and all the Soviet scientists had to work with were the small “graphite piles” that were used to produce plutonium for the weapons program. The main goals for the RBMK were low costs and flexible operation. Low cost was achieved by making the reactor very large and allowing it to use uranium fuel that did not have to be enriched to similar levels as the fuel for western reactors. Flexible operation meant that the reactor could be refuelled without shutting it down. This had two goals: the primary goal was to minimize interruptions to power production. The secondary goal was to make it easier to use the reactor for weapons grade plutonium production, should the need arise.

These parameters led to using graphite as the moderator for the nuclear reaction instead of heavy water, which was four times as expensive. The reactor ended up being very large, so it would have been very expensive to build a containment building around it. Some have estimated it would have doubled the cost of the reactor. So containment was left out. Costs were also cut by leaving additional safety systems to a minimum. The prevailing Soviet doctrine concluded that containment buildings and safety systems were unnecessary, since in principle the RBMK was completely safe, provided it was operated exactly according to the instruction manual.

However, even that manual omitted some important weaknesses of the RBMK, which were never told to the operators. The design choices combined with the use of low-enriched uranium fuel meant that the reactor could become unstable in certain conditions. Most reactors are designed in a way that if the coolant (often water) is removed, the reactor shuts down. With RBMK, the opposite happens. If the cooling water turns to steam and the cooling system dries up even partially, the chain reaction in the core accelerates. If reaction controls do not operate fast enough or if they are turned off, this will lead to even more water turning to steam, accelerating the chain reaction further, which will eventually lead to a meltdown. This was especially likely when the reactor was operating at lower power, during which the coolant pressure and boiling point were lower.

Finally, the control rods of the reactor were badly designed. The tip of the rod was made of graphite, which accelerates the reaction. When inserting a completely removed rod into the reactor, the fission reaction accelerates for about five seconds before starting to slow down. This was not a big problem when a single rod was inserted. But inserting all 211 control rods at the same time to the reactor operating at full power had catastrophic effects. To top it all off, the mechanism of inserting the control rods was slow even by 1980s standards. Western designs of similar age inserted control rods in three seconds, while the same operation took RBMK some 20 seconds.

The people at the Kurchatov Institute who designed the reactor were not stupid, and they were well aware of the inherent problems in their design. The Soviet officials did not want to hear of any problems, however. Everything nuclear was by definition top secret in the Soviet Union, and the operating principles of the RBMK were no exception. Reactor operators were forbidden to discuss any possible problems with each other. So when the operators at the Ignalina nuclear power plant discovered the problem with the control rods in 1983, they told no one about it. Nobody imagined that someone would manually turn off all the safety features and then run the reactor at dangerously low power.

Chernobyl – What happened?

A safety experiment was scheduled for reactor 4 in the Chernobyl nuclear power station in April 1986. The goal of the experiment was to ensure that the reactor could be cooled if there was a power loss during a shutdown. Previous experiments had failed, and the politically appointed management, who had only superficial knowledge of nuclear power, were hard-pressed to make certain that this time the experiment would succeed. Partly due to the embarrassing former failures, and partly due to the low perceived risk, Soviet nuclear safety officials were not notified of the experiment.

The plan was to run the reactor at a low power level of 700 MW (thermal), and then cut the flow of steam to the generator. The generator, running at full tilt, would keep on spinning, and its behaviour would be monitored and measured. This would help ensure that the power it generated would be enough to keep the coolant pumps running long enough for the diesel-powered backup generators to start up.

It was planned that the reactor would be powered down slowly to the desired level during the early morning hours of 25th April. From there, the dayshift, who had been familiarized with the experiment, would be able to take over and start the experiment. As the day shift came in, another power station got dropped from the grid, and the grid operator in the area asked Chernobyl operators to postpone the experiment. This was agreed on, but the preparations were kept underway, and even some of the safety features were turned offline in advance. The grid operator gave permission only late that night, at 23:04, to continue with the powering down. The day shift was long gone, and even the evening shift was starting to leave. The night shift that had just arrived got orders to go ahead with the experiment as soon as possible. The reactor power level was promptly lowered. Here one of the operators made a mistake: he pushed the control rods in too deep, and the reactor was practically shut down.

The experiment could not be carried out with a reactor that was shut down, and the operator managing the experiment demanded swift action. The automatic system that moved the control rods in the core was turned off (an essential safety feature in the RBMK). Most of the rods were then pulled out from the core manually. The chain reaction kicked in, and in a few minutes the power level increased to 160-200 megawatts thermal. This was not enough for the experiment, and the automatic warnings were bypassed, more rods were pulled out and preparations for the experiment were continued. Numerous warnings came on, but the operators did not realise that the momentary shut down and other preparations had caused the reactor to go unstable and unsafe for the experiment, which could only be remedied by letting the reactor run for a while on a higher power level.

The experiment was then started by cutting the steam flow to the generators. The generator slowed down and the power to the pumps responsible for the pressure and circulation of coolant water went down. As the pressure went down, the boiling point of the circulating water lowered. As the water started to boil and turn to steam, the chain reaction in the RBMK accelerated – which is the opposite of what happens in most other reactors. Apparently, nobody had told the operators of this critical “feature” of the RBMK.

As the chain reaction accelerated, the automatic safety system started lowering control rods into the reactor to keep the power more stable. But only 12 rods had been left to be controlled by the automatic system, while the other 199 rods were on manual control and drawn completely out of the reactor. 36 seconds after the experiment was started, the 12 rods were fully inserted, but the power level kept increasing. At this point, someone decided to initiate emergency shutdown.

Emergency shutdown started pushing all the remaining rods into the reactor at once. Due to the bad design of the control rods we mentioned earlier, this accelerated the nuclear reaction for a few seconds before it would slow down, especially with many rods being pushed in at the same time. Although this “feature” had been noted three years earlier in the Ignalina power plant, nobody had shared the information with Chernobyl operators. The reaction accelerated so fast that at least part of the rods overheated and got stuck before the part of the rod that would slow down the reaction got inserted into the reactor.

During the next few seconds, the chain reaction went hypercritical and totally out of control. The power level indicators showed 33,000 megawatts, while the reactor’s designed operational power was 3,200 megawatts. It is impossible to reconstruct what happened next, but the best guess is that the tremendous heat energy produced caused a massive steam explosion, which popped the 2,000-ton top of the reactor vessel through the roof of the reactor building. This explosion wrecked the rest of the cooling systems in place, and the RBMK pulled one last trick from its sleeve: With all cooling gone, nothing held back the chain reaction. Another, even more massive explosion destroyed the reactor core and sent the highly radioactive fuel and graphite pieces around the compound. As air was drawn into the torn reactor core, the red-hot graphite started burning. Despite heroic and quite literally self-sacrificing actions of the emergency workers, the graphite burned for two weeks, sending most of the remaining radioactive materials high into the atmosphere and surroundings.

The following morning, Soviet leaders woke up, knowing nothing of what had happened and at what scale. It was not unusual in the Soviet Union that environmental destruction or accidents went unreported, and the nuclear program was especially sensitive. The scale of what occurred started unwinding when Finnish border control officials noticed abnormally high radioactivity levels. This information was forwarded to the prime minister Kalevi Sorsa, who decided not to publicize the matter, as it would probably only antagonize Soviet Union.

The following morning, 27th of April, the radiation alarms in the Swedish Forsmark nuclear power station went off. The source was found to be the dirt from one employee’s boots, which carried radioactive fallout from Chernobyl brought to ground by rain. In cooperation with Finland, the Swedes located the likely source to be a nuclear power plant accident in western Soviet Union. The fallout spread all over Europe, and the cesium-137 can still be measured in many places. As denial finally became impossible, Soviet officials had to admit to the world that the accident had happened.

Pripyat, a town near the Chernobyl nuclear power station, was evacuated in the afternoon of 27th April. Kiev, which was 90 kilometres (55 miles) away from Chernobyl, went on preparing their parade for the 1st of May. Nobody was giving the public iodine tablets, even though it was clear that the destroyed reactor had leaked large amounts of iodine-131. Iodine-131 is a radioactive isotope that is often the most dangerous radiological consequence of nuclear accidents, but also easily prevented from causing harm by giving the population iodine tablets. It also disappears in a few weeks. A short notification about the accident was finally read in the evening news of 28th April, but there still was no mention about any dietary restrictions.

It is common to see the Chernobyl accident referred to as a typical example of how dangerous nuclear reactors can be. This has little to do with facts and a lot to do with perceptions. This type of reactor, with the unique properties that led to the accident, has not been built in decades, and was only built in the Soviet Union. While there are still a few such reactors operating, they have all been retrofitted with improved safety measures. One rather surprising and even scary fact remains less discussed: Chernobyl reactors 1, 2 and 3 remained in operation even after the accident. Reactor 3 was the last to shut down, in December 2000. It would be wise to replace the remaining operating RBMK’s with safer designs as soon as possible.

Recently, many people have seen or heard of the HBO mini-series about the Chernobyl accident. While highly entertaining, it is also fictitious in some important ways. Jaakko Leppänen, a research professor of nuclear technology at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, wrote a simultaneous blog as the original episodes were aired, fact-checking the events as they unfolded in the mini-series. The blog can be read here:

Health impacts of Chernobyl

Chernobyl has claimed a few dozen lives, according to the World Health Organization and United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). According to UNSCEAR’s latest, most comprehensive report[i] to date on Chernobyl:

  • 134 plant staff and emergency workers suffered acute radiation syndrome (ARS) from high doses of radiation.
  • In the first few months after the accident 28 of them died.
  • Although another 19 ARS survivors had died by 2006, those deaths had different causes not usually associated with radiation exposure.
  • Further, some 6,000 thyroid cancer cases were reported in the three most affected countries of Belarus, Ukraine and four most affected regions in the Russian Federation. 15 of them had proven fatal, although very likely not all of them were caused by the Chernobyl fallout.

At most, there are 62 confirmed fatalities from the worst nuclear accident in our history. Statistically, there might be some 4,000 extra fatalities all in all due to the low doses of radiation spread around, according to some LNT models. However, these models have what the UNSCEAR calls unacceptable uncertainties at these low doses and has recommended that they are not used for epidemiological purposes[ii],[iii].

The cleaning up afterward was done by roughly 600,000 “liquidators”, of whom only a small number received significant amounts of radiation. Iodine-131 was the largest health hazard for those living in the surrounding area. As we know, iodine-131 has a short half-life so it was essentially gone in two months. The risk on the longer time frame is from fission products such as cesium-137 which has a half-life of 30 years and caesium-134 with a half-life of two years.

Luckily, these health risks are proving to be less serious than many have thought. Around 6,000 thyroid cancers have been diagnosed (up to 2005) in the group most at risk (mainly children living in nearby areas), with 15 fatalities. Even as most thyroid cancers were treated successfully, almost all cancers could have been avoided with prompt actions by the government to distribute iodine pills.

Very small doses were delivered to a larger population of around 5 million; the LNT model suggests 5,000 could die prematurely. Even smaller lifetime doses, in the neighbourhood of 1 mSv or less (a week or so in Pispala), are estimated to have been delivered to hundreds of millions of people living in Europe and the rest of the world. The Union of Concerned Scientists has done their own calculations and point out that (according to LNT model) the final death toll would be somewhat higher (at 27,000 total fatalities) than that mentioned above, due to these very small doses.

These doses, however, are well within the variation of background radiation, and similar or even much smaller than doses routinely received from medical imaging and such. As discussed earlier, there is little evidence that small doses have the linear health consequences that LNT suggests, and the major expert organizations on radiation and its health effects have concluded that LNT model should not be used for epidemiological purposes. For example, conclusive studies have found that no additional cancer cases have been caused by Chernobyl fallout in Finland (2 mSv lifetime dose).

Some groups have not been content with the relatively low mortality estimates of the World Health Organization and other agencies that comprised the Chernobyl Forum.[iv] They have proceeded to make their own, non-peer reviewed studies on the matter, resulting in tens, even hundreds of times more estimated fatalities.

European Greens were among those disappointed by the Chernobyl Forum’s results, so they commissioned and published their own TORCH-report[v] (The Other Report on Chernobyl). It again made good use of the LNT model and stuck to it on a purely theoretical level, whereas the Chernobyl Forum had searched for actual empirical evidence of harm to people’s health. TORCH managed to report 30,000 to 60,000 extra cancer deaths in the whole of Europe.

Next was Greenpeace[vi], who calculated that Chernobyl would eventually cause around 93,000 premature extra fatalities. The method was rather curious: any area that had any amount of fallout was included. If there were any increased fatalities in that area after 1986, these were counted as being due to Chernobyl. This dubious method meant that the increased fatalities that were due to liver cirrhosis in the area of the recently dissolved Soviet Union were promptly attributed to Chernobyl. The report did not question whether there could have been other reasons for liver cirrhosis than radiation from Chernobyl. Perhaps alarms should have gone off, as there are no studies showing that radiation causes liver cirrhosis.

Even this estimate, 10 times higher than that of the Chernobyl Forum, was not enough for everybody. Alexei V. Yablokov, one of the authors involved in the Greenpeace report, a former member of Russian Academy of Science and one of the founders of Greenpeace Russia, wrote a book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment (2007). It is based mainly on a wide variety of materials written in the Slavic languages. The book claims that around a million humans have died or will die due to the Chernobyl accident, growing the official estimates a hundred-fold and Greenpeace’s estimates ten-fold. Experts who have reviewed the book (and who know Russian language and can check some of the sources used) have noted that as a scientific study, the book has negative value. [vii] It uses fictional novels as sources, and scientific literature receives scant attention.

In addition to blaming liver cirrhosis and other diseases that have no known connection with radiation, the book resorts to fabrication and lying when scientific reality does not concur with the author’s preconceptions. For example, in the chapter dealing with Finland, a study concerning the area of Tampere concluded that birth defects had decreased after the Chernobyl accident. Yablokov, on the other hand, first generalized the study to cover the whole of Finland, and then promptly changed “decreased” to “increased”.

These kinds of problems have not stopped some anti-nuclear people from using Yablokov’s book as the definitive proof on the destructiveness of nuclear accidents.[viii]

Indeed, the common strategy for many anti-nuclear advocates seems to be ever-more imaginative and ridiculous claims that are poured on the unsuspecting public, as it is a well-known psychological fact that people often think, despite the actual evidence, that the truth is to be found somewhere in between the extreme claims made. This same tactic is used with Fukushima, as we will learn later in this book.

The disproportion between the actual evidence and the amount of public worry is enormous, especially if it is compared with common, everyday risks our society accepts to ensure everyday access to energy services. Coal is probably the most glaring of these. Coal mining accidents alone kill thousands every year, with tens of thousands getting sick and permanently disabled due to coal dust and other hazards. [ix] Air pollution kills roughly seven million each year, according to WHO.[x] Catastrophic climate change, which might end up being the biggest risk associated with coal burning, is not even included in these numbers.[xi] Greenpeace has done a study on the matter a few years back, as have other environmental NGOs more recently. These studies find that around 20,000 people are killed each year in Europe alone as a result of coal burning. In addition, coal burning distributes heavy metals and other toxins which have no half-lives to the environment.

The scale of this gap between reality and perception is so enormous that it makes it difficult for many to believe. Even if we take Greenpeace’s numbers at face value – for which there is no good reason – it could be said that a Chernobyl accident every few years would be an acceptable price for giving up coal burning from a public health perspective. Sadly, we would soon run out of Chernobyl-type reactors and would have to content ourselves with less harmful accidents.


[ii] ICRP. ICRP Publication 103: the 2007 recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Ann ICRP. 2007;37(2-4):1–332.

[iii] UNSCEAR. Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation Fifty-ninth Session (21-25 May 2012). New York, NY: UNSCEAR; 2012: Report No. A/67/46.

[iv] The report was done and published by IAEA, WHO, UNDP, FAO, UNEP, UN-OCHA, UNSCEAR, World Bank and the governments of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. The original report can be downloaded from




[viii] Such as Helen Caldicott, who also claims to be strictly for science and evidence.


[x] 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution, World Health Organization (2014).

[xi] European coal pollution causes 22,300 premature deaths a year, study shows, The Guardian (2013).

The Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident – What Really Happened

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The Dark Horse – Nuclear Power and Climate Change

This is a sample chapter from our recent book The Dark Horse – Nuclear Power and Climate Change (link to Amazon store). The book was published in 2020. It is our effort to counter the misinformation out there regarding the Three Mile Island accident.

Three Mile Island

Three Mile Island (TMI) ranks as the third most famous and serious civilian nuclear power plant accident. It happened 28th March in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Nobody died, and no significant amounts of harmful radioactivity were released into the surrounding areas. Reactor number two had a partial meltdown, and the cost of clean-up was around one billion US dollars. Public communication about the accident was a horrible failure. This caused panic, mistrust and the strengthening of the nascent anti-nuclear movement. Three Mile Island is commonly seen as one of the key reasons for the almost total shutdown of building new reactors anywhere in the western countries during the next 30 years.

The TMI pressurized reactors designed by Babcock & Wilcox had their quirks. The bigger problems were probably the lack of proper training and expertise of many nuclear operators in the fast-growing industry. People who had operated far smaller nuclear reactors in Navy submarines for a couple of years found well-paying jobs in the civilian nuclear industry. Those submarine reactors were sized in the ballpark of 12 MW, which made them much easier to handle than the civilian reactors that were dozens of times larger. For example, a full day after shutdown, a 1.2 gigawatt PWR still produces around 15 MW of residual heat.

The chain of events that led to the partial meltdown started around eleven hours before the accident.[i] Plant operators were trying to clean up some sophisticated water filters of the secondary water loop. The blockage was stuck, so instead of using pressurized air, the operators forced some water through to remove the resin. A small amount of the pressurized water got past a valve and ended up in the wrong place (instrument airline). Later this water caused the feedwater pumps to turn off, cutting off feedwater to the steam generators. This in turn caused increases in pressure and temperature in the reactor cooling system, which eventually led to an automatic emergency shutdown (SCRAM[ii]). As the turbines were offline, decay heat started gathering in the primary water loop.

Three auxiliary pumps were automatically activated, but they offered little help, since some valves were closed due to maintenance. This effectively cut off all primary and auxiliary cooling from the core. This closure of the valves was a violation of Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rules and was later found to be one of the key reasons for the partial meltdown.

As pressure in the primary system kept increasing, it automatically opened the pressure release valve. Normally this valve closes after pressure goes down, but due to a mechanical failure, it remained open. In addition to pressure, cooling fluid also started leaving the system. This mechanical failure of the valve was found to be one of the key factors that led to the accident. The stuck valve went unnoticed by the operators, mainly due to a badly designed status indicator light.[iii] The operator read the indicator as the valve being closed (as it should be), while in reality it was stuck open. This caused a lot of confusion amongst the operators, since other indicators were acting strange considering that the valve was supposed to be closed. Only the next work shift, seeing the situation with fresh eyes, realized what was happening. By then, it was much too late: 120,000 litres of coolant fluid had leaked from the cooling system, and the damage had been done.

The accident revealed severe shortcomings in communications between officials and the public. Responsibilities were found to be unclear. The public received a constant barrage of conflicting information, which increased panic and caused unnecessary evacuations.

The accident was a result of many unlikely technical problems occurring at the same time. Combined with somewhat lacking operator skills, the result was a partial core meltdown. Nobody got hurt and no significant radioactivity was released to the surroundings. What was released was mainly harmless Xenon-gas, although a small amount of radioactive iodine was also released.

[i] The article relies on this article in Wikipedia:

[ii] SCRAM comes from “safety control rod axe man”  and refers to the last line of safety in the first reactor humans built, whose job it was to cut the rope holding the control rods up with his axe.

[iii] Some sources say that the indicator was partly covered.

Fukushima Nuclear Accident – What Really Happened?

The Dark Horse – Nuclear Power and Climate Change

This is a sample chapter from our recent book The Dark Horse – Nuclear Power and Climate Change (link to Amazon store). The book was published in 2020, and this article came out on the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima accident. It is our effort to counter the misinformation out there regarding the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and its victims that have been all but forgotten, and the Fukushima nuclear accident that took most of the attention, even though it’s direct public health impacts have been rather small.


The most recent, and our second-worst nuclear accident is likely the one which currently affects our public nuclear discussion the most. A giant tsunami, which resulted from a record-breaking earthquake near the eastern Japanese coast, destroyed the back-up power sources of Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power stations. As a result, three reactors that were online at the time were badly damaged and released large amounts of radioactive matter to the surroundings. As is often the case with large-scale accidents, the reasons for the accident can be traced back to actions that were or were not taken long before the tsunami rolled over the insufficient sea walls and hit the plant.

It is hard to imagine a more challenging place to build nuclear power plants than the Pacific coast of Japan. The whole region is geologically unstable and is under a constant threat of earthquakes and tsunamis. But there are 127 million people living in the densely populated and wealthy Japan, and the country has an enormous appetite for energy. When this is combined with almost non-existent fossil energy reserves and the dense population (making renewable energy sources challenging as well), most of that energy has been imported. Japan is the world’s largest LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) importer, second largest coal importer and third largest oil importer. Japan also remembers that during the Second World War, the allied forces cut most energy imports to the country with dire results.

If safety is given proper attention, it is not in itself that dangerous to build nuclear power plants even in geologically unstable areas such as Japan. The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the U.S.) pointed out risks regarding earthquakes and tsunamis back in 1991.[i] The NRC study concluded that if a nuclear power plant lost its backup power during a massive power failure, the reactors could overheat.[ii]

The Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station had six reactors with a total capacity of 4.7 gigawatts. All of them used sea water for cooling and had no independent cooling towers. Since the accident, this type of “extra” cooling towers have been built on the Loviisa nuclear power plant in Finland, for example. Since there is little chance for tsunamis in the Baltic sea, this is mainly in preparation for a major oil accident. The first of the Fukushima reactors was brought online in 1971. The Mark I containment building it had was criticized as too weak in the 1970s, so the designer, General Electric, made some design improvements for them in the 1980s. Their operation required that the decay heat from shut down reactors could be removed with active back-up cooling systems using water-circulating pumps. In the U.S. the NRC required that back-up generators would be placed in earthquake and tsunami-proof locations at least one hundred meters away from other buildings. It also required extra mobile generators to be placed nearby.

IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) had recognized NRC’s recommendations as reasonable already in the early 1990s and recommended implementing them for its member states. But IAEA does not have power over national nuclear safety agencies.

The Japanese government had ensured everyone, including itself, that Japanese reactors were already completely safe. This led to the perverse situation in which the government would lose face if, despite claims of safety, additional safety improvements were implemented. The country had at least five different organizations that had their hand at least somewhat in civilian nuclear power, but before 2001, none of them had the power to mandate safety improvements to be made on nuclear power plants. This multitude of overlapping officials and agencies also caused inner struggles and paralyzed quick decision-making. To top it all, NISA (Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency), which was the empowered agency in 2001, was not an independent actor as is the NRC. It was a subsidiary of the Japanese ministry of industry and commerce.

As the IAEA tsunami recommendation landed on their desk in the early 2000s, NISA had to compare it with another, cheaper recommendation seen as good enough by their parent organization. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the latter won on the basis that the nuclear safety commission had already reviewed how Japanese reactors would handle total power failure and the destruction of back-up generators. The study concluded that such an event was so unlikely that it was not worth the effort of preparation.

If Japan had followed the recommendations of the NRC 20 years earlier, the Fukushima accident would most likely have been avoided, or at least it would have been limited to a much smaller scale, similar to Three Mile Island. But even this negligence did not ensure that the accident would happen. The last straw was likely the order that evacuations from two-kilometre radius need be completed before any emergency pressure release could be done. This order was well-meaning, since pressure release like this always releases radioisotopes into the surroundings which would be higher than the limits normally allowed. But releasing the pressure could also prevent much larger damages and consequences.

Fukushima – What happened?

On March 11th in 2011, the seabed near the east coast of Japan shook like never before, during measured history at least.[iii] During the following three minutes, the east coast of Japan moved over two metres closer to California and sank almost a metre. Global daytime shortened by 1.8 microseconds and the rotational axis shifted by roughly 25 centimetres (10 inches).

All Japanese reactors did what they were supposed to do in such a situation: they shut down immediately. In Fukushima Dai-Ichi, the three operating reactors also went to a shut down and back-up generators started up, running the water pumps for cooling as planned. One of the operators of reactor 1 thought that its isolation condenser[iv] was working even too efficiently, as the temperature was dropping fast. He decided to bypass the automatic system and shut down this passive cooling mechanism. According to some sources[v], this was one of the key mistakes that later led to the accident.

The earthquake, which happened on the sea floor around 100 km to the east of Miyagi prefecture, had sent a massive tsunami on its way. Around one hour after the earthquake (15:35), the tsunami, which was in some places as high as 15 metres, hit the east coast of Japan. It flooded and flushed whole towns to the sea and entered deep inland. In just a few minutes, 21,377 people died or went missing in the rubble and the sea. More than 6,000 people were injured, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. Some 250,000 buildings were destroyed wholly or partially, and a further 750,000 buildings were damaged.[vi]

Another nuclear power station in Fukushima prefecture, Fukushima Dai-ni, survived the tsunami with relatively small damages. In fact, it was used as shelter for local folks, because it is such a robust, safe structure. In Fukushima Dai-ichi, the destruction was much heavier. The tsunami ripped apart the diesel fuel tanks of the generators and flooded the turbine halls, which had the back-up generators running in their basements, producing the essential electricity to keep the cooling pumps and control rooms running. Only one of the generators, which was placed at a higher location and which was cooling reactors 5 and 6, survived intact. Both these reactors, along with number 4, were offline due to fuel loading.

Reactors 3 and 4 shifted from generators to battery power. Control rooms still had power, so the operator’s job was to make sure that all valves and electrical devices that had to do with cooling reactor 3 down were left in optimal position when the batteries would run out of power.

Reactors 1 and 2 had shared batteries, which had been flooded and had lost most of their charge. They were emptied in a few minutes, and total darkness took over the reactor building and the control rooms. There was no way to control emergency cooling any more, and it was impossible to know how much water was left in the reactor pressure vessel. When the accident occurred, there had been 4.5 metres of cooling water mixed with steam above the fuel assemblies. If the fuel assemblies were to surface above the water level so early after the shutdown, they would overheat and eventually melt.

Reactors 1, 2 and 3, which were running when the accident happened, were the most immediate threat. Of these, reactor 1 was the biggest worry, as its fuel had been in the reactor the longest, which meant that it would also produce the most decay heat. In addition, its isolation condenser had been manually switched off a few minutes earlier. Reactor 2 had its emergency cooling (RCIC) on, so that would help at least for some time. Back-up power to reactor 3 had been cut off, but it still had batteries feeding power to the most critical systems.[vii] TEPCO, the operator, notified the Japanese government that reactor 1 had an emergency.

The cooling water circulating in reactors 2 and 3 kept getting hotter, and at some point it would boil and turn to steam. All electrical connections between the reactors had been destroyed. All roads leading to the site had been flooded and were filled with debris, collapsed buildings and people running away, so it was hard to get to the site. Big enough generators were too heavy for helicopters. Electrical cables needed to be hooked up to the reactor buildings but moving cables 10 cm (4 inches) thick and weighing a ton amidst fallen buildings and rubble was not easy to do with manpower only.

Eventually, the operators working with flashlights managed to get some of the emergency cooling systems back online, at least partly. Fire trucks were driven beside the reactor buildings, and by hooking up their hoses to the emergency cooling system, the pressure increased, and more water was pumped to the reactor pressure vessels. But the pumps in the fire trucks were not strong enough to push much water into the over-pressurized vessels which were getting hotter. There would need to be a pressure release, which would also release radioactivity to the surroundings.

Reactor 1 was completely dark, so it was impossible to get any information on what was going on in the reactor. A few hours after the tsunami (8:49 PM), operators managed to get some electricity back to the control rooms of reactors 1 and 2. The indicators showed that the situation in reactor 1 was serious, and the operators notified the local authorities that evacuation plans must be started immediately as there might be need for emergency pressure release directly to the atmosphere. This was only done as a precaution, and preparations for the pressure release were not started.

A bit later, at 9:30 PM, the prime minister of Japan announced that the evacuation zone was to be expanded from two to three kilometres, which effectively doubled the number of people that needed to be evacuated. In hindsight, this was a serious mistake, as this new plan was not properly communicated to all local officials due to the general chaos.

Around midnight, the radiation levels in reactor 1 rose as a sign that the water level had fallen to the level of the fuel assemblies and preparations for the emergency pressure release were finally started. Releasing pressure without electricity was something that had not been practiced, so the preparations proceeded slowly.

What happened inside reactor 1 during this time? In three hours, the cooling water had boiled away. An hour and a half later the zirconium cladding of the fuel rods had become so hot that steam dissociated into hydrogen and oxygen. The fuel started to melt, and the pressure inside the reactor vessel increased rapidly. Without pressure release valves (which needed electricity), this pressure was hard to release. The containment vessel, made of inch-thick steel, ruptured and the hydrogen along with some radioactive fission products inside the reactor leaked into the reactor building. If passive hydrogen removal systems – a safety feature required in many countries – had been installed to the reactor building, this hydrogen would have been burned back into water, and nothing more serious would probably have happened. These systems were not a requirement in Japan, and had not been installed, so the reactor building started to turn into a bomb, just waiting for a spark.

The preparations for the pressure release continued through the night and morning, as did the evacuations which needed to be finished before permission for the pressure release would be granted. Damage inside the reactors kept getting worse, and around 5 AM radiation detectors noticed that radioactivity was leaking from the reactor buildings. Evacuation was still underway. Finally, around 9 AM, information was received that the evacuations had been finished. One of the operators went into the reactor building to manually open the pressure release valve. He only had time to open it partially when his dosimeter told him that the maximum allowed dose of 100 mSv had been received and he had to return. This limit was increased to 250 mSv a few days later, but then it was too late. At 10:40 AM pressure was finally released, but it was much too late.

At 15:36, with the pressure release still underway, reactor 1 ran out of time. A huge hydrogen explosion blew the top of the reactor building off, sending debris and pieces high into the air and around the compound. This debris broke the power connection, which had been established just a few minutes earlier, between the reactor buildings and the newly arrived high-voltage generators. The explosion also spread the radioactive fission products that had been gathering in the reactor building all over the area, slowing down any further repairs. Five emergency workers were injured. 

On the next day, 13th March, the emergency cooling of reactor 3 finally stopped. It had been operating on the steam produced by the decay heat from the reactor, but eventually the pressure had decreased too much. The preparations for emergency pressure release were started, but it was already too late. A couple hours later, the fuel started melting and the red-hot zirconium started splitting steam into hydrogen and oxygen. A fire truck arrived a few hours later and started to pump seawater into the reactor, and by some miracle, the pressure was lowered by releasing some steam and gases to the atmosphere, along with radioactive elements. But the designers of the pressure release systems had forgotten the possible hydrogen problem. A day later at 11:01 AM, there was an explosion in reactor 3 building.

Just an hour later, 70 hours after power was cut, the emergency cooling of reactor 2 overheated and the turbine which had been powering it stopped. The water boiled away, and in under four hours the fuel started melting and flowing to the bottom of the reactor vessel. Hydrogen started forming there as well, but someone had opened a panel on the wall to let the hydrogen and lighter radioactive elements out from the reactor building.

Reactor 4 had been in shut-down during the accident, so there was no immediate danger even though there was no power. But it shared a ventilation duct with reactor 3, and with no electricity available, the valves had been left open. Part of the hydrogen forming in reactor 3 found its way to the reactor 4 building and started gathering there, waiting for a spark. On 15th March, to everyone’s surprise, there was an explosion in reactor 4 building. The reason for it was confirmed only six months later, and so fear and rumours spread far and wide that the spent fuel that had been removed from the reactor had overheated and was the cause for the explosion.

All three of the operating reactors had melted down. Yet nobody died in this nuclear accident. Further studies by WHO and UNSCEAR have concluded that it is unlikely that anyone involved in the emergency work would die prematurely due to the radiation doses they received. Reactor 4 was basically still fixable, but it would be hard and expensive due to the radioactivity in the area. Reactors 5 and 6 did not suffer damages.

Significant amounts of radioactive elements were released to the surroundings during those few days. Mainly this consisted of iodine-131 and isotopes of cesium. Some radioactive isotopes also dissolved into the overflowing cooling water, and some of these ended up leaking into the Pacific Ocean. Small leaks have continued for a long time. None of these leaks will have significant health impacts or impacts on the environment.

If preparations for the emergency pressure release had been started right after operators realized that it might be needed (around 9 PM on 11th March), and if the pressure release had been started as soon as it was possible, resulting damages might have been much less. Hydrogen explosions could have been avoided, and the damages could have been limited to the reactors themselves being destroyed. Some radioactivity would have been released with the pressurized steam, but it would have been a small fraction of what was released.

Reasons for the accident have also been found in the actions of TEPCO (the operator) and nuclear safety officials before the accident. Many recommended safety improvements had been ignored, as had the possibility of an earthquake and tsunami of this magnitude. Proper preparations would likely have prevented the whole nuclear accident from happening. Onagawa nuclear power station, which was much closer to the centre of the earthquake, survived almost without any damages, and Fukushima Dai-ni, just 10 km away from Fukushima Dai-ichi, was also spared from serious problems.

Fukushima in the media

Rumours and conspiracy theories still abound that the true scale of the accident was hidden from the public by officials and the nuclear industry.[viii] Even a cursory glance at the news articles from that time proves the opposite. A nuclear accident in which nobody died got far more coverage than did the tsunami and its more than 20,000 victims. The global media, for the most part, forgot journalism and went after click-bait headlines, fearmongering and very poor fact-checking. One example of this is the news that started circulating about a year after the accident. We were told about the supposedly enormous amounts of radioactivity leaking into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima. In fact, this was 300 tons of water that was slightly contaminated with radioactive tritium, totalling 20-40 terabecquerel (trillion becquerel).

Practically none of the articles brought that seemingly huge amount of radioactivity into context, and people were horrified. Had they done journalism instead of click-baiting, the readers would have learned that this “enormous release” was equivalent to 20-40 tritium-based self-illuminating EXIT-signs. The rumour mill kept on growing. Today, there are articles available that give straight citations saying 300 tons of water is leaking each day (instead of one year).[ix] The tritium in the water has also somehow turned into caesium and strontium along the way, which is a fundamental shift as tritium is not actually dangerous.[x]

Another news article that started circulating in spring of 2014 reported that the Fukushima accident was connected with thyroid cancers found in children.[xi] Signs of tumours were found after careful screenings of children in the area, which anti-nuclear activists saw as a sign that the accident caused a significant increase in thyroid cancer cases.

In truth, this was not at all what was found. Small tumours in thyroid glands are quite common, and most of them are not dangerous or aggressive and will go away on their own. Some estimate that perhaps a third of us has such a tumour in us any given day. This means that whenever a population is screened for signs of tumours, we will find plenty. The problem with the screening is when to count a shadow found in the scan as a tumour and when not. In the study in question, much smaller signs were counted as tumours than normally. With this method and criteria, any given population would show a significant increase in tumours.

In addition, it takes time for the tumours to grow and start showing up. If thyroid cancers were to increase due to the accident, they would not show up so soon anyway. The study was done merely to establish a baseline for further reference.[xii]  Experts have criticized the study in the medical journal The Lancet for using too small a control group, saying this method of counting smaller signs as tumour will lead to unnecessary treatments and anxiety for people, when harmless tumours that would likely go away on their own are removed surgically.[xiii]

Every mid-March we also get a steady stream of stories that tell us ”something is still ticking in Fukushima.” Many reporters have visited the Fukushima evacuation area with Geiger counters, and found that indeed, 0.4 microsieverts (or so) of radiation is present in some homes of elder people who would love to move back but are not allowed by the government. The context is usually missing. The said level of radiation (found in a story by Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Scandinavia[xiv]) is just a bit higher than is the normal background level in Finland. Someone living in Pispala gets a dose ten times larger.

If the nuclear radiation limits enforced by the Japanese government, which are based on international recommendations, were applied to Finland, most of the country would need to be evacuated immediately. This tells us something about the stringency of radiation limits we use around the world. It also tells us why cleaning up Fukushima is bound to cost tremendously and unnecessarily: they are cleaning the place to be less radioactive than most of Finland is naturally. While people are shocked about these costs, they silently accept the tremendous health costs that burning fossil fuels in Japan, due to the closures of their reactor fleet, will cause there.

Health impacts of Fukushima

The first peer-reviewed study on the Fukushima health effects was done by professor John Ten Hoeve and professor Mark Z. Jacobson from Stanford University.[xv] The study was based mainly on theoretical models, and it found that the radiation would cause around 130 extra cancer fatalities in the next 40 years, around the world. This amount is too small to be seen in health statistics. The study used the LNT model in the non-recommended way, which likely overestimates the amount of fatalities, since it assumes that even tiny doses of radiation will cause cancer at the population level. Mark Jacobson is commonly known to be very anti-nuclear, and he is also a rather shameless booster for 100% renewable energy systems. It is therefore slightly surprising to find the article stating that the evacuation likely caused more harm to health than the radiation would have, had the people stayed at home. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) did a more comprehensive hands-on study on the effects of Fukushima. It concluded that it might increase the statistical risk for cancer slightly, but the increase will be so small as to be impossible to detect. [xvi] The media again forgot journalism and went after the headlines. The headlines told us that the risk for small girls to get thyroid cancer went up by as much as 70 percent. Behind the outrage and shock caused by this sort of headline, nobody paid much attention to the meaning when placed in proper context. First, it only applied to a small group that got the largest amount of radiation. Second, in practice it meant that the lifetime risk of these girls getting thyroid cancer went from 0.75 percent to 1.25 percent (an increase of 70 percent, or 0.5 percentage points).[xvii]

The report by UNSCEAR came to similar conclusions. They estimate that 167 emergency workers received radiation doses that will slightly increase their lifetime risk of developing cancer. When we acknowledge that statistically 60 of them will get cancer for other reasons anyway, and the fact that their health will likely be closely monitored for the rest of their lives because of the Fukushima accident, it might be that their actual risk of dying of cancer has gone down. This is because the fact that any cancer is much more treatable if it is noticed at an early phase.

There is also a group of people that think conspiracy is the most logical explanation for the discrepancy between the expert statements and peer-reviewed studies and their own anti-nuclear preconceptions. The most common of these conspiracy theories goes roughly as follows: WHO and IAEA have signed a contract that forbids WHO from publishing anything that the IAEA does not want them to.[xviii] So whenever WHO publishes something that anti-nuclear advocates disagree with, they cry conspiracy. Is there such a contract? Of course not. The ”proof” of this conspiracy is a passage, taken completely out of context, which says:

“Whenever either organization proposes to initiate a programme or activity on a subject in which the other organization has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement.”

As is often the method of conspiracy theorists, the whole contract, or the context, is ignored. Even a glance at the paragraph just above the one quoted would destroy the theory. It says basically that the IAEA has no power to order WHO to do or say (or leave out) anything that would hinder its mission.[xix] Indeed, such a clause as cited above is quite common between international organizations that have some overlapping interests and areas of expertise. Its main purpose is to ensure that one organization does not publish data or results it has obtained from another organization without making sure the data and results are accurate and up to date. WHO has also made a statement back in 2001, where it specifically addresses this worry and says it is unfounded. [xx]

But if there are such conspiracies of hiding real data and making up new results, why has nobody leaked these from the WHO? Publicity and fame would have been guaranteed. And why has all other peer-reviewed research on the matter – even that done by rather anti-nuclear researchers – achieved a similar result? Are they also in on the alleged WHO-IAEA conspiracy?

The initial estimates of the amount of radionuclides released from the accident varied greatly. Nobody knew if the spent fuel pools were intact (they were) and nobody knew the extent of meltdown and other damage sustained in each reactor, and how much radioactive material might be leaking.[xxi] The largest initial estimates by some were more than seven times larger, at 17,846 terabecquerels, PBq) than was the total amount present in reactors 1-3 (2,453 PBq), and only a part of this total amount was released.

TEPCO has since estimated that around 500 PBq of iodine-131, 10 PBq of caesium-137 and 10 PBq of caesium-134 were released to the atmosphere. Measured as “iodine-131 equivalent”, they totalled at 500 + 400 + 40 = 940 PBq. A total of 169 PBq of iodine-131 equivalent of radioactive elements leaked to the Pacific Ocean in addition to 500 PBq of the mostly harmless xenon-133. For comparison, Chernobyl leaked a total of 5,200 PBq of iodine-131 equivalent.

With all the outrage about the radioactivity leaking to the Pacific Ocean, the actual amount is good to put in context.[xxii]

 Sources of radioactivity in the oceans 
 Nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s950 PBq
 Chernobyl100 PBq
 Fukushima total14–90 PBq
 Biggest natural sources of radioactivity in oceans 
 Uranium-23837,000 PBq
 Potassium-4015,000,000 PBq

It is a fact that the Fukushima accident has demanded and will keep demanding more victims. At least 1,600 have died directly and indirectly because of the evacuation. Some have committed suicide, some have died of drug abuse, and some elderly and sick have died because of the strain and complications involved in the evacuation itself. The damages due to anxiety, drugs and alcoholism and mental problems will keep growing for decades to come.

Fukushima is an enormous tragedy which should never have happened, but not for the reasons we often think. People living in the evacuation area lost their homes, and many did so permanently, for one reason or another. The local communities will likely never be the same, as even with reasonably low radiation levels, many people will be wondering if it is worth moving back, and if there is a community to which they can return. Will there be jobs, where will old friends and neighbours be, will the social network exist anymore, and how can it be built again?

From this perspective, the risks associated with nuclear are rather unique in comparison with most other energy sources. The risks and damages due to accidents hit whole communities. Even if coal kills hundreds, even thousands of times more people per unit of energy produced, coal is often a silent killer that can only be seen in statistics – although mining accidents can and do affect whole communities. Nuclear accidents and the evacuations they cause can destroy whole communities, even if the people will go on living somewhere else. Another similar community-breaking energy source is hydropower, which has literally wiped out whole towns and villages, and seen millions moved from their communities to make way for enormous hydro dam projects.

Both Fukushima and Chernobyl raise an important question that rarely gets asked and even less frequently answered. We know by now that the psychological health damages far exceed those caused by radiation from nuclear accidents. And we know that those damages are largely due to fear, social stigma and anxiety. These, in turn, are born of nuclear regulation that fails to acknowledge the larger public health while concentrating on minimizing the radiation exposure at any cost, and the anti-nuclear campaigning that often uses misinformation, fear and doubt as their tools for collecting donations to fund their activities. Can these campaigners somehow be held to account for the psychological damage they cause by their actions, at least morally and ethically if not legally? What about the responsibility of the nuclear industry regulators, and laws that both effectively prevent us from building nuclear (which is then replaced with other more harmful energy production) and fail to recognize the detrimental effects these laws and regulations can have on overall public health?

[i] See Corrice (2012). Fukushima: The First Five Days. The text here is largely based on this book, which is based on the original logs.

[ii] NUREG-1150, NRC (1991).

[iii] The book Atomic Accidents offers a thorough tour of the Fukushima accident. This chapter is based on that and on the wikipedia article on the accident.

[iv] Isolation condenser had been installed on the oldest reactor #1.

[v] Mahaffey, James (2014-02-04). Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima (Kindle Locations 7451-7452). Pegasus Books. Kindle Edition.

[vi] Numbers are from UNSCEAR 2013 Report Volume I: Report to the General Assembly, Scientific Annex A: Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami, page 25.

[vii] Numbers are from UNSCEAR 2013 Report Volume I: Report to the General Assembly, Scientific Annex A: Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 east-Japan earthquake and tsunami, page 33.

[viii] There are even books on this, such as the one from a Greenpeace-activist, nutrition therapist Kimberly Roberson’s Silence Deafening, Fukushima Fallout … A Mother’s Response.

[ix] Fukushima leaking radioactive water for ‘2 years, 300 tons flowing into Pacific daily’, RT (2013).

[x] New Radioactive Water Leak Found at Fukushima Plant, Nation of Change (2014). Read 23rd March 2020.

[xi] Read 23rd March 2020.

[xii] Why the Cancer Cases in Fukushima Aren’t Likely Linked to the Nuclear Disaster, National Geographic (2014). Read 23rd March 2020.

[xiii] Shibuya, K., Gilmour, S., Oshima, A. (2014). Time to reconsider thyroid cancer screening in Fukushima. The Lancet 383(9932), 1883-1884.

[xiv] Fukushima tikittää yhä uhkaavasti, HS (2013). In Finnish.

[xv] Worldwide health effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, DOI: 10.1039/c2ee22019a

[xvi] World Health Organization weighs in on Fukushima, Nature News Blog (2012).

[xvii] Global report on Fukushima nuclear accident details health risks, WHO (2013).

[xviii] The contract can be read at Read 23rd March 2020.

[xix] See

[xx] Read 23rd March 2020.

[xxi] Read 23rd March 2020.

[xxii] Buesseler, Ken O. (2014). Fukushima and ocean radioactivity. Oceanography 27(1):92-105. Read here:

Kysymys kirjallisesta kysymyksestä koskien Olkiluodon poikkeustilan viestintää

Kansanedustajat Eveliina Heinäluoma (sd) ja Hussein al-Taee (sd) jättivät kirjallisen kysymyksen Olkiluodon ydinvoimalaitoksella liittyneen häiriötilanteen viestintään liittyen. Voit lukea sen tästä linkistä tai kokonaisuudessaan alta, blogauksen lopusta. Omassa työssäni mietin ydinvoima-alan viestintää ja ydinvoimasta käytävää julkista keskustelua jatkuvasti. Niinpä en malta olla purkamatta tätä kirjallista kysymystä hieman perusteellisemmin.


Osoitetaan ensin tekstiin eksynyt virhe, jossa Olkiluodon ydinvoimalaitos on ilmeisesti muuttanut Loviisan laitoksen tilalle, lähelle väkirikasta pääkaupunkiseutua. Olkiluoto on länsirannikolla Eurajoella, muutaman sadan kilometrin päässä Loviisasta ja pk-seudusta. Mutta virheitä sattuu (ja laajemmin ydinvoima-viestintään liittyen asia sinällään liittyy myös Loviisan ydinvoimalaitokseen).

Kirjallisessa kysymyksessä todetaan näin:
Oikea-aikaisen tiedotuksen tulee olla avainasemassa vastaavissa ydinvoimaloita koskevissa häiriötilanteissa, sillä hyvä tiedotus on merkittävä turvallisuustekijä. ”

Olen tästä täsmälleen samaa mieltä. Mutta mielestäni nimenomaan tämä on hyvä peruste sille, että EI toimita niin kuin kirjallisen kysymyksen esittäjät ja heidän siteeraamansa kyselyyn vastannut ihmisjoukko haluaa. Oikea-aikaista ja hyvää tiedotusta ei nimittäin ole se, että hätiköidään ja tiedotetaan mahdollisimman nopeasti jotain asiasta, josta ei vielä tiedetä kovin paljoa – varsinkin kun se vähä mitä tiedettiin oli se, että vakavaa äkillistä uhkaa (mikä olisi luonut tarpeen nopeammalle tiedotukselle) ei ole. Nopea ei ole sama asia kuin oikea-aikainen, eikä se ole sama asia kuin hyvä.

Jos kansalaisille olisi alettu lähettelemään heidän kyselyssä toivomiaan tekstiviestejä, että ”nyt on Olkiluodon ydinreaktorin höyrylinjassa havaittu säteilypiikki ja laitos hätäpysähtynyt – ei syytä paniikkiin”, olisi merkittävä osa ihmisistä todennäköisesti ymmärtänyt viestin väärin ja hätääntynyt. Hän olisi kysynyt itseltään ihan järkevän kysymyksen: ”Miksi kaikille lähetettäisiin tällainen viesti, jos kyseessä EI ole oikeasti vakava hätätilanne?

Miksi tosiaan olisi? Ihan vain varmuuden vuoksi, että osaavat varautua? Mutta varautua mihin? Tilanteeseen, jonka ei pitänyt olla vakava? Kuka tässä tilanteessa uskoisi, että tilanne ei ole vakava, jos siitä on kuitenkin juuri lähetetty miljoona tekstiviestiä ja josta termejä heikosti ymmärtävä lehdistö jo uutisoi kohuotsikoin (koska siitä on lähetetty miljoona tekstiviestiä)? Totta kai ihmiset hätääntyisi.

Paniikki ei synny siitä, että olisi hätätilanne. Paniikki syntyy siitä, että ihminen näkee toisen ihmisen hätääntyvän ja alkaa ajatella, että hänenkin on syytä hätääntyä. Olemme laumaeläimiä, jotka uhraavat faktat ja rauhallisen tilannekuvan heti kun joku laumastamme antaa siihen jonkinlaisen syyn. Ja paniikissa syntyy herkästi rumaa jälkeä. Kun ihmiset lähtevät joukolla tunnekuohussa ajelemaan, voi joku oikeasti loukkaantua! Ja vaikka jossain maaseudulla on vielä ihmisillä tilaa hätääntyä ja ajella, niin ajatellaan tilanne pk-seudulle kuten kysymyksen allekirjoittajat, jossa ihmisiä on tiiviissä. Hätäännys ja paniikki leviävät sitä nopeammin mitä tiiviimmässä ihmisiä on, sillä sitä herkemmin vaikuttaa siltä että ”jotain on tekeillä”. Tällaisessa tapauksessa peräänkuulutetulla ”nopealla viestinnällä” olisi voinut saada todella paljon ihan oikeaa vahinkoa aikaiseksi.

Onkin äärimmäisen vastuutonta ruveta pelottelemaan ihmisiä viesteillä, joissa väärinymmärtämisen ja hätääntymisen riski on niin ilmeinen kuin se ydinvoiman kanssa on. Ydinvoiman ja säteilyn pelko on jo nyt paljon itse säteilyä suurempi riski, kuten Fukushimasta opimme: säteilypelon aiheuttama hätäily ja panikointi, eli juuri sellainen toiminta, jota kirjallisen kysymyksen esittäjät ilmeisesti peräänkuuluttavat, oli vastuussa tarpeettomista evakuoinneista, joissa kuoli toista tuhatta ihmistä. Onnettomuudesta vapautunut säteily, vaikka kaikki olisivat jääneet niille sijoilleen, ei todennäköisesti olisi aiheuttanut tilastollisesti merkittäviä terveysvaikutuksia. Olisipa sielläkin paikallinen viranomainen viestinyt vähän harkitummin.

Ydinvoiman turvallisuuteen liittyvää viestintää ei saa ohjata ihmisten halu saada juoruja tai vaillinaista tietoa mahdollisimman nopeasti. Se on keltaisen lehdistön ja klikkijournalismin alaa. Sitä tulee ohjata kansanterveyden turvaaminen kokonaisvaltaisesti. Tiedottamisen tulee tapahtua nimenomaan oikea-aikaisesti ja sen tulee olla hyvää, kuten kirjallisen kysymyksen esittäjät vaativat. Mutta se ei tarkoita sitä mitä he tuntuvat ehdottavan: hätiköityä, nopeaa ja ihmisten turvallisuuden kannalta turhaa (ja sen vaarantavaa) viestittelyä. Päinvastoin.

Tarvitaan kyllä parempaa viestimistä mihin ala ja viranomaiset Olkiluodon tapauksessa venyivät, sillä monet aikaiset annetut lausunnot olivat teknisiä ja tavalliselle ihmiselle vaikeasti ymmärrettäviä. Tarvitaan rauhallista, selkeää ja asiat kontekstiin laittavaa viestintää, vaikka sen valmistelu sitten hieman kauemmin veisikin.


Kirjallinen kysymys Olkiluodon ydinvoimalan häiriötilanteen viestinnästä

Eveliina Heinäluoma sd ym.

Eduskunnan puhemiehelle

Olkiluodon ydinvoimalassa tapahtui 10.12.2020 häiriötilanne puolen päivän aikaan. Olkiluodon voimalaitos pysähtyi höyrylinjassa ilmenneen säteilypiikin vuoksi. Reaktori ajettiin alas seisokkiin sen jälkeen, kun laitoksessa havaittiin radioaktiivisen säteilyn voimistumista hetkellisesti.  

Turvallisuusjärjestelmät toimivat häiriötilanteen yhteydessä suunnitellusti, mutta keskustelua mediassa herätti viestinnän hitaus häiriötilanteen tultua ilmi. Laitoksen turvajärjestelmä kytkeytyi päälle iltapäivällä klo 12.22. Ensimmäinen tiedote tapahtumasta lähti medialle klo 13.28 eli noin puoli tuntia sen jälkeen, kun Säteilyturvakeskus oli saanut häiriöstä tiedon. Sosiaali- ja terveysministeriön tiedotustilaisuus asiasta pidettiin klo 15.30. 

Suomen pelastusalan keskusjärjestö (Spek) ja STUK teettivät tapahtuman jälkeen lähialueen asukkaille kyselyn ydinvoimalan häiriötilanneviestinnästä. Verkkokyselyyn vastasi 3 500 ihmistä ympäri Suomen, ja heistä viidesosa oli lähialueen asukkaita.  

Kaikista kyselyyn vastanneista viestinnän oli arvioinut huonoksi reilu kolmannes. Ihmiset olisivat halunneet lisää tietoa mm. häiriötilanteen syistä ja seurauksista sekä siitä, mitä kansalaisten tulisi tehdä säteilyonnettomuudessa. Viranomaisen toimista olisi haluttu kuulla myös enemmän. 

Vaaratiedotteelle ei ollut aihetta, mutta kansalaiset kokivat, että heidän olisi tullut saada tietoa asiasta nopeammin ja kattavammin, esimerkiksi tekstiviestillä. Yli puolet sai ensimmäisen tiedon tapahtuneesta median välityksellä.  

Oikea-aikaisen tiedotuksen tulee olla avainasemassa vastaavissa ydinvoimaloita koskevissa häiriötilanteissa, sillä hyvä tiedotus on merkittävä turvallisuustekijä. Olkiluodon tapauksessa ydinvoimalan välittömässä läheisyydessä sijaitsi Loviisa, mutta kovin kaukana ei ole myöskään väkirikas pääkaupunkiseutu. Tiedeyhteisö on pitänyt ydinvoimaa mahdollisena osana ilmastonmuutonmuutoksen torjunnan talkoissa. Jotta tämänkin ratkaisun hyväksyttävyys osana ilmastotyötä otettaisiin positiivisesti vastaan, on viestintään panostettava ja virheistä opittava.  


Edellä olevan perusteella ja eduskunnan työjärjestyksen 27 §:ään viitaten esitämme asianomaisen ministerin vastattavaksi seuraavan kysymyksen:

Mihin toimiin hallitus aikoo ryhtyä, jotta nyt esiintyneet epäkohdat ydinvoimalan häiriötilanteiden viestinnässä korjataan ja nopea tiedonvälitys alueen asukkaille varmistetaan?

Olkiluoto 2:n käyttöhäiriön uutisointi

Olen blogissani kerännyt median erilaisia ydinvoimauutisointiin liittyneitä omituisuuksia ja ylilyöntejä. Joulukuinen Olkiluoto 2 reaktorin käyttöhäiriö ja pikasulku kirvoitti uutisointiakin aiheen tiimoilta. Ohessa erään aiheesta julkaistun krijoituksen analyysi. Huom, tämä ei ole artikkeli itse tapahtumasta, vaan tapahtuman käsittelystä ja uutisoinnista.

Ydinvoima ja Journalismi

Kun ydinvoimalassa tapahtuu jotain poikkeuksellista, kiinnostuu media aiheesta välittömästi. Kaikessa kiireessä lentää monelta lehtimieheltä journalismin perusopit hetkeksi peränurkkaan. Journalismin perusopeilla tarkoitan sitä, että raportoidaan asioiden faktat mahdollisimman huolella ja neutraalisti, kontekstia mukaan tuoden, ilman isompaa värittelyä ja mässäilyä.

Kerrataan ensin, mitä tiedämme tapahtuneesta. Lyhyesti VTT:n Jaakko Leppästä mukaillen:

Reaktorin suljetussa järjestelmässä kiertävää jäähdytysvettä suodatetaan siihen vapautuvista radioaktiivista aineista, jotta esimerkiksi vuosihuollot ovat helpompia toteuttaa. Suodattimia varten tätä vettä jäähdytetään. Nyt jäähdytys oli vikaantunut, joten suodattimiin virtasi normaalia kuumempaa vettä. Tämä vapautti niihin keräytyneitä radioaktiivisia aineita takaisin suljettuun vesikiertoon. Vesikierron radioaktiivisuutta valvotaan jatkuvasti, joten tämä jäähdytysveden noussut radioaktiivisuus laukaisi reaktorin pikasulun.

Journalismi lähtee laukalle

Ohessa Tapani Postilan kirjoittama lyhyt juttu Olkiluodon kakkosreaktorissa sattuneesta käyttöhäiriöstä 10. Joulukuuta 2020. Käyn sitä hieman läpi niin teknisestä kuin journalistisesta näkökulmasta. Lainaukset ovat hänen tekstiään, välissä omat kommenttini.

Ydinvoimaturman uhka sähköisti torstaina. Eurajoella Olkiluodon ydinvoimalaitoksen kakkosyksikössä tapahtui vakava häiriötilanne, joka johti pikasulkuun. Järjestelmät mittasivat kohonneita säteilytasoja laitoksen sisällä. Laitos ajettiin alas ja eristettiin. Suomalaisittain kyseessä oli poikkeuksellisen vakava tilanne. Yhtä voimakasta suojaustoimintoa ei ole laitoksella koskaan ennen tapahtunut.

Olkiluodossa ei ollut ydinvoimaturman uhkaa, ja vakava häiriötilannekin on terminä melko voimakas. VTT:n Jaakko Leppäsen mukaan kyseessä oli ”käyttöhäiriö”. Näiden välillä on melkoinen ero annetussa mielikuvassa. On syytä kysyä, millä perusteella toimittaja kutsuu tapahtunutta ydinvoimaturman uhaksi? Silläkö, että turvatoimet toimivat kuten pitikin, ja viranomaiset käynnistivät protokollan mukaiset toimenpiteet?

Pikasulku puolestaan on varsin normaali käyttöhäiriön aiheuttama toimenpide, joka osaltaan estää sen, että mitään ydinvoimaturman uhkaa ei pääse edes syntymään. Automaattiseen pikasulkuun voi johtaa monet asiat.

Kuten toimittaja kirjoittaa, laitoksen sisällä mitattiin kohonneita säteilytasoja. Tämä olisi kuitenkin hyvä sekä pistää kontekstiin että tarkentaa, sillä tuolla tavalla sanottuna mielikuva on jälleen uhkaava ja vaaralla mässäilevä. ”Laitoksen sisällä” tarkoittaa tässä tapauksessa suljettua jäähdytysvesijärjestelmää laitoksessa, jossa ihmiset eivät käytön aikana oleskele. Myös reaktoriastian sisällä on erittäin korkea säteilytaso, joka tappaisi (kuumuuden ohella) sinne jotenkin pääsevän ihmisen hetkessä. Myös vaikkapa juhannuskokon keskellä (lämpö)säteilyn taso on niin korkea, että se tappaa ihmisen hetkessä. Siksi sinnekin menemistä pyritään välttämään.

Säteilyturvakeskuksen pääjohtaja Petteri Tiippana totesi tilanteesta, että jonkin verran aktiivisuutta oli ilmastointipiipun kautta päässyt, mutta määrä vastasi suurin piirtein sitä määrää, mikä laitoksen normaalikäytönkin aikana pääsee. Tiippana painotti, että asukkaat voivat olla turvallisin mielin tilanteesta huolimatta.

STUKin pääjohtaja Petteri Tiippana totesi hyvin pitkälle juuri näin. Ympäristöön ei päässyt normaalia suurempia säteilyannoksia (jotka ylipäätään ovat siis niin pieniä, että banaania hieman keskivertoa enemmän sisältävällä ruokavaliolla tai sopivalla hiekkaharjulla asumalla päästään korkeampiin annoksiin.)

Olkiluodon ydinvoimalan muuttuminen hetkeksi Olkivuodoksi on vakava muistutus vaaroista, joita sisältyy sähkön tuottamiseen ydinvoimalla. Suomessa ydinvoimaloiden ongelmat ovat olleet vuosikymmenten aikana pieniä, ja ne eivät ole aiheuttaneet ympäristölle vaaraa. Kaikki kuitenkin tietävät maailmalla tapahtuneista ydinonnettomuuksista.

Tässä yllämainittu normaalia vastaava säteily muutetaan nopealla silmänkääntötempulla ”Olkivuodoksi”, joka vielä samassa lauseessa muuttuu vakavaksi muistutukseksi ydinvoiman käytön vaaroista. Siis se, että mitään merkittävää vaaratilannetta ei tapahtunut, ja se että järjestelmät ja viranomaiset toimivat niin kuin niiden pitikin, onkin yhtäkkiä vakava muistutus ydinvoiman vaaroista?

Lisäksi, tietävätkö kaikki tosiaan maailmalla tapahtuneista ydinonnettomuuksista ja niiden seurauksista paljoakaan? Tšernobyl on onnettomuuksista ainoa, joka on aiheuttanut suoria uhreja, vajaa kuutisenkymmentä lähinnä pelastustöihin osallistunutta. Jos epäsuoria uhreja tulevina vuosikymmeninä tulee, ne hukkuvat taustakohinaan. Esimerkiksi Suomessa Tšernobyl ei näy syöpätilastoissa. Ikävää, mutta melkein mihin tahansa teolliseen toimintaan verrattuna varsin maltillista. Kivihiilen normaalin polton seurauksena menehtyy ennenaikaisesti ihmisiä enemmän joka ikinen päivä. Tarkemman kuvauksen Tšernobylin onnettomuuden kulusta, seurauksista ja käsittelystä mediassa voit lukea Musta Hevonen -kirjastamme poimitusta blogiartikkelistani. Mutta palataan takaisin aiheeseen.

Suomalaista ydinvoima-osaamista ja turvallisuuden varmistamista ydinvoimaloissa pidetään huippuluokkaisena. Olkiluodossa koettiin kuitenkin torstaina jotain, joka yllätti ammattilaisetkin. Onni tilanteessa oli, että vakava häiriö ei johtanut vakavaan onnettomuuteen.

Käyttöhäiriö ja pikasulku toki yllättää ammattilaisetkin, koska ne ovat niin harvinaisia tapahtumia. Mutta sitten toimittajan mopo lähtee keulimaan, sillä hän antaa ymmärtää, että kyseinen käyttöhäiriö olisi voinut johtaa vakavaan onnettomuuteen, ja että nyt kävi jotenkin onni myöden, että näin ei tapahtunut. Liian lämpimän veden pääsy suljetun jäähdytysvesikierron suodattimiin (jota siis kuvataan nyt vakavana häiriönä) siten, että niistä vapautuu niihin kerääntyneitä aktivoituneita aineita takaisin vesikiertoon ei johda vakavaan onnettomuuteen, ei vaikka kävisi miten huono onni. Se johtaa reaktorin pikasulkuun, jos aktiivisuustaso nousee riittävän korkealle.

Paljon jäi myös petrattavaa. Ydinvoimalan häiriötilanteesta tiedotettiin yleisölle ensimmäisen kerran vasta tunnin kuluttua tapahtuneesta. Tunti on aivan liian pitkä viive vaarasta kertomiselle, kun käsillä voi olla tuhoisan onnettomuuden ainekset.

Viestintä olisi voinut tosiaan toimia paremmin. Nyt esimerkiksi journalistit ehtivät rakentaa mielessään jos jonkinlaista kauhuskenaariota, ennen kuin selkeää ja luotettavaa tietoa oli saatavilla. Ydinvoimayhtiöt eivät myöskään ole vielä löytäneet keinoa kommunikoida alan sisäisiä termejä ja käytäntöjä alan ulkopuolisille ymmärrettävästi ja konteksti mukaan tuoden. Insinöörivetoisella ja tarkoin säädellyllä alalla mennään usein ajatuksella, että riittää kunhan faktat on mahdollisimman tarkkaan kuvattu, siitä viis mitä kuulija niistä ymmärtää tai millaisen käsityksen niistä saa. Tämä on kuitenkin nimenomaan se aspekti, joka viestinnässä tulee olla keskeinen päämäärä: ihmisille pitää antaa ymmärrettävä kuva asiasta heidän lähtökohtansa huomioiden. Ei riitä, että viestijä itse ja hänen kollegansa ymmärtävät käytetyt termit. Vastuullinen viestintä ottaa huomioon myös viestin vastaanottajan.

Toimittajan mopo kuitenkin keulii myös hänen omasta aloitteestaan. Tunti voi olla pitkä aika vaarasta kertomiselle, jos käsillä voisi olla tuhoisan onnettomuuden ainekset (tosin ydinonnettomuudet ovat luonteeltaan varsin hitaasti eteneviä, ja turha hötkyily ja pelon luominen johtaa ihmisissä hätäilyyn ja ylilyönteihin, jotka ovat seurauksiltaan paljon vaarallisempia).

Mutta käsillä ei ollut tuhoisan onnettomuuden ainekset. Se, että asian tarkkaa syytä ei heti tiedetty, ei tarkoita sitä, että se voi olla mitä vain. Kyseessä oli laitoksen käyttöhäiriö, joka johti pikasulun laukeamiseen. Protokollaan kuuluu, että valmiussuunnitelmat laukeavat samalla.

Ydinalalla turvallisuuden varmistaminen on aivan eri tavalla ennakoivaa ja monella tasolla toimivaa kuin ihmisten normaalissa elämässä. Vertaus voi vähän ontua, mutta jos ydinreaktoria vertaisi henkilöautoon, se ei suostuisi edes käynnistymään, jos vasemman takavalon polttimo olisi rikki. Päinvastoin, paikalle kutsuttaisiin autonkorjaajat, kolme katsastusmiestä ja poliisipartio varmistamaan takavalon toimivuus ennen uutta käynnistysyritystä.

Ydinvoiman merkitys sähköntuotannossa on edelleen vahva, kun fossiilisista polttoaineista luopuminen lisää valtavasti energian tarvetta. Kasvava sähkönkulutus täytyy tyydyttää. Ydinvoima on yksi keinoista saada sähköä energiaa janoavalle maalle. Pyhäjoella rakentamislupaa odottavan Hanhikivi 1 ydinvoimalaitoksen odotetaan mahdollisen valmistumisen jälkeen tuottavan kymmenyksen Suomen tarvitsemasta sähköstä.

Ydinvoiman tuotantoon liittyviä riskejä ei ole vara aliarvioida. Ydinvoimalaitoksen vakavan häiriön syyt on tutkittava todella tarkkaan. Suomi ei ole mikään lintukoto myöskään riskialttiissa ydinvoiman tuottamisessa.

Ydinvoiman tuotantoon liittyviä riskejä ei todellakaan ole aliarvioitu. Itse asiassa ne järjestelmällisesti yliarvioidaan ja jätetään laittamatta kontekstiin. Se, että ydinvoiman riskejä ei ole yhteiskunnassa laitettu kontekstiin johtuu esimerkiksi siitä, että mitään kansanterveydellistä kokonaisanalyysiä tai vertailua ei ydinvoiman turvallisuuden kanssa nykyisin tehdä. Ydinvoimaa ja ydinvoiman turvallisuutta ei siis verrata muun energiatuotannon turvallisuuteen tai terveysvaikutuksiin, vaan sitä arvioidaan ikään kuin omassa siilossaan. STUK keskittyy, mandaattinsa ja osaamisensa mukaisesti, säteilyturvallisuuteen ja säteilyannosten minimointiin yhteiskunnassa, ei kansanterveyden maksimointiin. Nämä eivät ole lähimainkaan samat asiat.

Tämä olisi journalismin näkökulmasta hyvä muistaa, kun kirjoittaa johonkin ”riskialtis ydinvoima.” Se kun on samalla kuitenkin vähemmän riskialtis meille kuin juuri mikään muu luotettava energiantuotantotapa.

The Dark Horse galloping into Estonia

Just a few days after coming out, ”The Dark Horse – Nuclear Power and Climate Change” is now on its way to be translated for the Estonian market, according to preliminary negotiations. Publication is aimed for early 2021.

Cover of The Dark Horse – Nuclear Power and Climate Change

Estonia is among the more progressive European countries when it comes to seeing nuclear as an exciting opportunity to both decarbonize their own energy supply and to help their neighbors do the same. It is therefore essential to have easily accessible and factual information available for the public as well as the many stakeholders and policymakers.

The Dark Horse is a great way of providing this information. It is a carefully cited thorough discussion of the climate situation as well as the role that nuclear has played and could play in the future. It points out the popular myths around nuclear energy and offers mainstream studies and hard evidence in their place – and it manages to do this in an entertaining and easily readable way.

The Dark Horse – Nuclear Power and Climate Change

Our new book The Dark Horse – Nuclear Power and Climate Change is out!

Get the Kindle ebook from this link or by clicking the image below! Paperback version will be out in June 2020.

From the back cover:

Climate scientists consider climate change to be among top threats to humanity’s future. If unchecked, runaway climate change can destroy not just many of our current ecosystems, but wreak havoc in human societies as well. To prevent the worst catastrophe, greenhouse gas emissions from our energy system needs to decline to zero rapidly. We need to replace fossil fuels, which represent roughly 85 % of our energy production, with low-carbon alternatives. To manage this in a low-risk and timely manner, all tools need to be utilized to their maximum potential, including nuclear energy.

Nuclear is surrounded by colourful rhetoric, politics, fear and fearmongering, click-bait scandal-headlines and mental images of dangerous radiation and catastrophic accidents. But how much of this is warranted, and how much is based on beliefs, opinions and prejudices? How dangerous is ionizing radiation really? What happened in Chernobyl and Fukushima, and what are the best estimates on their effects on public health and the environment? And can we harness nuclear energy to play a major role in decarbonizing our energy systems rapidly and more affordably?

This book takes a serious look how the climate change mitigation is progressing, what needs to be done, and how nuclear has helped in the past, and can help us in the future. Partanen is an award-winning science writer and analyst on climate, environment, energy and society. Korhonen did his PhD in the history of technology, has written about climate and energy for years and is currently researching “Plan B”, and emergency program for climate change mitigation.

Essential reading for all climate hawks, policymakers and environmentalists.” – Kirsty Gogan, Founder, Energy for Humanity

Why Germans won’t heat their homes even with free electricity?

This is a translation/guest post by Riku Merikoski. The original can be found here (in Finnish). All mistakes due to translation are my fault. 

On Monday 10th February 2020 something historical happened. For the first time, the market price of electricity fell below zero in Finland. While -0.2 € per megawatt hour (or -0.02 cents / kWh) is not dramatically different from earlier lows of 0.1 €/MWh, going negative is a strong symptom of the sickness that ails our electricity markets. Governments have created a situation where it is not worthwhile to use low carbon electricity even if it is free from time to time.

There are several reasons for the negative prices, but the main driver is the reckless support-policy for renewable electricity in Germany and Denmark.

In 2017 the total subsidies paid for renewable electricity in Germany were around 26 billion euros, of which 8.5 billion was paid to wind producers. Most of the wind production in Germany gets high feed-in-tariffs regardless of the market price of electricity. Only turbines built in 2016 or later take even a small hit to their revenues if prices go below zero, and more than 75 % of the production capacity was built before that.

As a result, Germany and Denmark have experienced negative prices already for years, and this time they remained negative for six hours. Strong imports from Denmark and Germany during the night were among the main causes for pushing Finnish prices below zero.

Germany had around 104 TWh of wind production in 2017. Divided to that amount, the 8.5 billion euros in tariffs means a tariff of around 82 €/MWh. Just a few years ago, new wind projects got a higher tariff of around 80 €/MWh for the first five years, and a lowered tariff for the next 15 years, which is most of their practical operational lifetime. Offshore wind had even higher tariffs, which increases the average wind tariff further. You can find out more about these numbers from the Bundesnetzagentur statistics.

Average onshore tariff is around 66 €/MWh and offshore tariff average is 159 €/MWh. There has not been much new onshore wind coming online during the last two years and just 2,000 MW of offshore wind, so the averages have not changed that much since 2017. The production for this day (10th February) was estimated to be around 40,000 MWh/h on average, meaning that almost 1,000,000 MWh of wind electricity was produced during the 24 hours. This means that roughly 80 million euros of wind tariffs were paid. On top of this, solar PV and bioenergy also got paid some tariffs, but during a windy winter day those are usually smaller amounts.

So is 80 million euros a lot or not? It’s a lot. The average market price for electricity in Germany was 8 €/MWh and total demand was around 1,500,000 MWh (1.5 TWh). During daytime electricity demand is higher and so is the market price, so the total market price for the 24 hours is roughly 15 million euros. The value of the wind production of around 1,000,000 MWh was roughly 8 million euros. The sources for all these numbers are from EEX and Entso-E.

Let’s take a moment to contemplate the numbers once more:

German electricity consumers paid 80 million euros in tariffs to get 8 million euros worth of wind power to the market. The total value of all electricity consumed in that day was 15 million €.

Broken Market

It is abundantly clear that this kind of subsidies will break the electricity markets. There is simply no point to make any market-driven investments in Germany; the tariffs are simply too large compared to the market value of electricity. While this single day was a very windy one, even the annual situation is bleak, as the tariffs paid for renewable electricity are of similar cost as is the total market value of all electricity consumed in Germany in that day. The Danish have a similar situation, but of course in a much smaller scale. Due to many interconnections between countries, what happens in Germany affects pretty much all of Europe to a degree.

What is the problem, isn’t free electricity great?

The first problem with “free” electricity is that nobody will invest in such a heavily subsidised market. The politicians have chosen the “winners” and everything else is a loser. Indeed, it is likely that without further subsidies in Finland, Sweden and Norway, there might have been not much investments in domestic wind capacity because the market was already getting saturated by Germany and Denmark and there were no signals coming from the markets. This might not be a problem if “getting more renewables” is the end-goal one prefers, but I think the goal should be decreasing emissions.

And here lies the second problem. The electricity taxation system we have is incompatible with this new normal where we have even negative prices from time to time. We tax the use of electricity the same way no matter what the price or CO2-emissions content of electricity is. The tax stays the same when electricity price is -10 €/MWh and its low carbon and when the price is 100 €/MWh and its high carbon.

This makes no sense, and the German system is the climax of this kind of dysfunctional policy. Why? Because the feed-in-tariffs for renewable energy in Germany are funded with additional taxes and fees collected from households and other smaller consumers from the electricity they consume. This leads to a situation where electricity costs 300 €/MWh (30 c/kWh) for these consumers on average. Image 1 below shows how this price is formed. A bit over fifth of the total cost is the cost of the energy (Strombeschaffung). About a quarter is transfer fees (Netzentgelte), and more than half is different taxes. Only the value-added tax (Mehrwertsteuer) is in any way relative to the price of electricity. The largest tax/fee is the EEG (EEG-Umlage) that is used to pay for the tariffs of renewable electricity, and then there is the electricity-tax (Stromsteuer) and a variety of other sorts of additional fees.


Image 1. The cost components of German household electricity. Source: Fraunhofer ISE, Recent facts about photovoltaics in Germany

We can also calculate the cost of electricity use for a German household when the price of electricity in the market is 0 €/MWh. After the other taxes and fees, the total cost is around 200 €/MWh (20 c/kWh). So even “free” electricity is almost as costly in Germany as the total average cost of electricity for households is in Europe, which is around 216 €/MWh (1st half of 2019).

Decarbonization of energy is done through electrification

It is a well-known fact that we need to electrify our use of energy, or in other words, replace burning of fuels with clean electricity, if we are to decarbonize our energy systems. And here lies the final problem. Germany taxes natural gas very lightly. Natural gas costs a household in Berlin about 62 €/MWh (6.2 c/kWh), as Household Energy Price Index tells us. This deserves another deep contemplation:

Even if a German household had a heat-pump installed with a COP of 3 (meaning one kWh of electricity is used to create 3 kWh of heat), and even if the market cost of electricity was free, the German household would be economically better off burning natural gas for heating.

And this dynamic can clearly be seen from image 2 below on how German houses are heated. Half of households are heated with natural gas and a quarter with fuel oil (Heizöl). Around 14 % are heated with district heating (Fernwärme), while electricity and heat pumps have a share of less than 5 %. And this is not due to old houses being heated with oil and gas. In 2019, the most popular heating method in new houses was still natural gas, and its popularity is still growing.


Image 2. Heating sources of German houses. Source: BDEW.

It is now the year 2020, and Germany has not even started to decarbonize their building heating. What is worse, as we learned above, the German tax-policy not only does not support this decarbonization of heating, but actively discourages it. Even “free” electricity is much too expensive for Germans to use for space heating because how electricity is taxed. If Germany wants to decarbonize its heating sector, this needs to change.

A first step would be to fix electricity taxation so that “free” electricity would be much lower cost for households than it is today, as when this happens, there is usually an oversupply of wind or solar and the electricity grid is somewhat clean (although Germany’s coal-plants often keep operating as it is too expensive to ramp them down just for a couple hours). This would also create additional demand for those low-cost periods which would increase the prices a bit and fix the broken market a little bit.

So far, there is no indications that anything would be done to fix this situation. It is my prognosis that Germany will fail to decarbonize its heating sector, which will likely mean that it will also miss its wider emissions reductions goals.

Author: Riku Merikoski

Translation: Rauli Partanen

Päästövähennykset Helsingin Sanomissa

Helsingin Sanomien suuressa päästöjutussa 3. Helmikuuta 2020 oli muutamia ongelmallisia olettamia.

Päästövähennystarve, mikäli Suomi haluaa olla hiilineutraali, on karkeasti 35 miljoonaa tonnia vuoteen 2035 mennessä – riippuen siitä, miten paljon metsiin ja maaperään sekä puutuotteisiin tuolloin sitoutuu hiiltä. Tavoite on kunnianhimoinen, ja nyt mietitään keinoja joilla siihen pyritään. Näitä keinoja esiteltiin Hesarin jutussa.


Helsingin sanomien jutussa olleessa kuvassa on kuvattu päästövähennystarve hiilineutraaliin Suomeen.

”Kivihiilen mukana päästöjä siirtyy historiaan noin 7 miljoonaa tonnia. Pelkästään tällä viidennes vähennysurakasta on kuitattu.” HS 3.2.2020.

Jutussa kerrotaan, että kivihiilen kieltävä laki vähentää päästöjä 7 miljoonaa tonnia vuodessa. Mutta se, että kivihiili kielletään, ei poista energian tarvetta joka kivihiilellä on tyydytetty. Kivihiili siis korvaantuu muilla energianlähteillä.

Mikäli nämä perustuvat polttamiseen, niistä tulee myös päästöjä. Bioenergian kohdalla nämä päästöt lasketaan maankäyttösektorille. Tämä johtaa siihen, että koska maankäyttösektorin päästöt ovat mukana hiilineutraaliustavoitteissa, ei nettovähennystä tapahdu periaatteessa lainkaan – paitsi mikäli poltettu biomassa onnistutaan kaalimaan kokoon ilman hakkuiden kasvattamista. Esimerkiksi ohjaamalla selluntuotantoon menevää kuitupuuta energiapuuksi – mikä puolestaan vähentää selluntuotantoa – tai tuomalla puu muualta Suomeen poltettavaksi. Periaatteessa myös risuja ja muita hakkuutähteitä voidaan kerätä entistä tarkemmin talteen hakkuiden yhteydessä.

“Lisäksi biopolttoaineiden jakelupakkoa liikenteessä on jo päätetty nostaa vuosi vuodelta 30 prosenttiin” HS 3.2.2020

Biopolttoaineet tehdään nimensä mukaisesti biomassasta. Mikäli saatavilla ei ole muuten hukkaan meneviä jäte- tai biomassavirtoja, niin biopolttoaineisiin tullaan käyttämään joko uusia biomassavirtoja (maankäyttösektorin päästöt kasvavat) tai niitä ohjataan sinne muista käyttökohteista, jotka puolestaan joutuvat joko luopumaan tuotannostaan tai etsimään muita raaka-ainevirtoja jostain (jolloin päästöt siellä kasvavat). Eli tässäkin kohtaa biopolttoaineisiin siirtymisessä on se riski, että päästöt siirtyvät yhdeltä sektorilta (liikenne) toiselle (maankäyttö).

”Suurin yksittäinen kohde on turve. Jos turve saadaan pois energiakäytöstä, päästöistä häviää yli 7 miljoonaa tonnia. Tosin sanoen puuttuvasta 19 miljoonasta tonnista olisi hoideltu jo lähes 40 prosenttia.” HS 3.2.2020

Tätä lausahdusta koskee sama ongelma kuin kivihiiltäkin yllä. Turve joudutaan korvaamaan muilla energialähteillä. Todennäköisesti, etenkin nopean kiellon tapahtuessa, tämä tulee olemaan enimmäkseen puuta. Puun päästöt lasketaan maankäyttösektorille, joten päästö siirtyy jälleen kerran yhdestä paikasta kirjanpidossa toiseen paikkaan. Toisin sanoen, tuo 7 miljoonaa tonnia päästövähennyksiä ei tule tapahtumaan, ellei turvetta korvata täysin polttoon perustumattomilla energiamuodoilla tai puulla, joka ei tule lisääntyneistä hakkuista.

Jutussa mainitut yli 15 miljoonan tonnin ”toteutuvat päästövähennykset” eivät siis ole millään tavalla vielä toteutumassa – ne ovat ennemminkin siirtymässä yhdestä sarakkeesta kirjanpidon toiseen sarakkeeseen. Se, paljonko niiden osalta päästöt vähenevät, riippuu täysin siitä, millä ne korvataan.

Maankäyttösektorille tuntuvat kaikki haluavan siirtää päästönsä, niin energiantuotanto kuin liikennekin, mutta jos mitataan Suomen nettopäästöjä ja hiilineutraaliutta, niin maankäyttösektori on niissä mukana. Tässä yhteydessä kakkua ei voi sekä saada että syödä.

Energialähteen tai polttoaineen kieltäminen ei tarkoita sitä, että kyseisellä polttoaineella tuotettu energiakulutus maagisesti poistuu, vaan se pitää korvata jollakin muulla. Millä se korvataan riippuu siitä mitä on saatavilla sekä paikallisista olosuhteista. Esimerkiksi kivihiilikielto lisää tarvetta maakaasun, turpeen ja bioenergian polttamiseen – jotka kaikki aiheuttavat päästöjä.

Toisaalta pienillä kaukolämpöä tuottavilla ydinreaktoreilla, syvällä tai keskisyvällä maalämmöllä tai sopivia hukkalämmönlähteitä hyödyntävillä lämpöpumpuilla kivihiiltä ja turvetta voidaan korvata Suomen päästökirjanpidon kannalta aidosti päästöttömästi.

Ps. Energiasektorin päästövähennyksiä ohjaa Euroopassa päästökauppa, joka antaa päästöille sekä katon, että lattian. Turve ja kivihiili kuuluvat päästökaupan piiriin, mutta bioenergia lasketaan siellä päästöneutraaliksi (koska se on kirjanpidossa maankäyttösektorilla). Päästökaupan piirissä tapahtuvat kansallisiin lakeihin perustuvat toimenpiteet eivät itsessään vähennä päästöjä Euroopan tasolla.

Pps. Mikäli olen mielestäsi väärässä, kerro ihmeessä. Kirjoitin jutun varsin nopeasti, joten virheitä voi hyvinkin olla.


Olen mukana erittäin jännittävässä Nesslingin säätiön rahoittamassa ilmasto-video-projektissa, jonka eka jakso julkaistiin juuri. Aiheena Ruoka ja sen päästöt.


Ilmastotuubin ensimmäinen jakso on nyt täällä! Aiheena on ruoantuotannon ilmastovaikutukset ja tubettajina ensimmäisessä jaksossa ovat Arttu Lindeman ja Jaakko Parkkali.

Haluatko oppia lisää? Lyhyen ja tiivin materiaalin ruuantuotannon ympäristövaikutuksista sekä opetuskäyttöön soveltuvat diat löydät täältä. Taustamateriaalia voi vapaasti käyttää opetuksessa tai vain itsensä sivistämisessä. Mukana on myös tehtäviä!

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Brexshit, anyone?

brexitmemeIn 2015, the people of UK voted to leave EU. Fine, one gotta respect the people’s opinion if one has asked for it. Not sure if calling for that vote was the best or smartest move in global, or even UK political history, but it happened, and during the campaign months the people of UK were promised many good things if they leave the EU.

Now, over 3 years later, it seems that almost none of those good things are happening. Instead, a lot of shit seems ready to enter the fan as there seems to be no way that the British politicians will accept the deal that EU is willing to give them. If no deal is done soon, there will be a “Hard Brexit”, or “Brexshit” as I call it.

I think it is high time that the people of UK are called to vote if they want Brexshit to happen. I mean, they voted for Brexit, but clearly that is not possible, nothing nearly what they were promised is going to happen. Instead, they are looking at Brexshit, which is something completely different. Having the people vote for one thing and giving them something else is not proper, now is it?

It is a bit like if I was asked to move to Sweden if I would also get a nice house in Stockholm, a free Tesla to use, health care for the whole family, a good job for me and my wife and a million Kronor per year on my bank account on top of my salary (that’s about 100,000 euros. Not much, I know, but I’m being reasonable with my analogue here). I love living in Finland, but I might be persuaded to vote yes on that personal Fixit, and so might the family (kids would not be asked as they are underage – although they would be the ones to take the actual hit, but there is politics for you).

Now, as I would start to pack my bags, say goodbyes and sell my house in Finland, those conditions would start to evaporate one after the other. Suddenly, I would not get a house in Stockholm, but a single-room apartment for the whole family of 5 at the outskirts of Malmö (for example), for which I would have to pay for. We would not get the jobs, nor the money promised (but surely, I would be free to apply for any job that I would want!) My Tesla would become a 1992 Toyota Camry that I would have to pay for myself, and I would have to go through years of bureaucracy to get my family health care in order. My Fixit would be turned into Fixshit.

Somewhere along the line, I think that I would like to have another go, another family vote, on the decision to move so Sweden or not. The deal would have clearly changed, so I would like to reserve the right to change my mind about it as well. I did not vote to “move to Sweden no matter what shit it causes.”

And neither did the people of UK.

Ps. I love Sweden. It’s the second-best country in the world. After Finland.

COP24 – Poland – You are the Champions

Wednesday, my last day at COP this year. We had a busy day with lot of prepping to do, so we started out early.

Originally, there was a plan to give out Climate Champion of the Day award on every day of the COP, in a more positive response to the “Fossil of the Day” -award that Climate Action Networks has been giving for years and years. But having such a booking in some public area for each day had proven to be impossible. So plan B (or maybe it was even plan C) was to book a meeting room for one session and announce all the nine champions of the day in one session.

As it turned out, even getting a meeting room for one hour was tricky. And that is why we were there early in the morning, asking if our application for a room had passed. It had not. But we were given an option: get one room from 6 PM to 7 PM or wait for some magic to happen to get an earlier booking (and be announced about it half an hour earlier, leaving no time for preparation). After 30 seconds of deliberation, we took the evening.

Big Al, big show

But first, we went to see Al Gore give his presentation. The room was packed with hundreds, if not thousands of people, listening Al give them his best. And I have to admit that it was good. Nice looking, good quality slides came and went at high speed on the enormous screens while Al delivered his comments and insights. A perfect presentation for that crowd, with lots of examples how Solar PV or wind energy was growing in places around the world.


Mr. Al Gore, delighting the crowd with a nugget of information that the Kentucky coal Mining Museum had installed solar panels on its roof.

But very little talk of emissions. The disturbing thing for me was that from listening to him, one could get the image that shitloads of stuff was happening, and hence we need not worry. But still, as annual emissions keep on rising, it is pretty clear that shitloads is nowhere nearly enough. And to give Al some props, he said it himself; despite all this progress, we are nowhere near the speed of decarbonization that we need.

Even nuclear was mentioned, somewhere in the lines of “Nuclear has also been growing, but we can talk about that another time”. It made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Our second largest clean energy source, and the only one that has so far proven to be fast and scaleable, got 3 seconds from Al. There is still a lot to do to normalize nuclear energy in society and public discussion. If we are to stop climate change, we need to get as excited about nuclear as we are on wind and solar and batteries and all the rest.

More Melty the Bears!

In the afternoon we also had another 30 minute session with Melty the Bears at the hallway. It was again a huge success, with dozens of people taking pictures of and with our three Meltys. Such a nice way to bring positivity to the climate fight, with inclusive, rather than exclusive, toolbox of solutions.


Not one, not two, but three Meltys!

Climate Champions Award

After the show with Al, and our polar bear photo-shoot, we got a couple hours of time before the Climate Champions award, so I did what anyone would have done at that point: I took a quick nap.


The stage is set. **Drumroll**

Given that our session was rather late in the evening, and in the farthest end of the conference area, almost no people showed up for our award. This was to be expected, as we had had very little time to advertise for it. But we did it, and no doubt there will be some sort of video of it out later. The Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway and Finland got their award as well for having largely decarbonized electricity systems and other progressive policies in place (and in Finland for extending Olkiluoto 1&2 lifetimes, building new nuclear and having a ban for coal energy use by 2029). Personally, I did not fully agree with all the reasons for all the champions, but that is just me; never happy about it, always finding something to complain about 🙂 (Actually, it’s not me, it’s them: they should stop making bad calls and counterproductive policies. I stop complaining as soon as that happens).

Book signing of Polish Climate Gamble

Right after the event, we rushed to a local micro-brewery/bar, where we had reserved the downstairs room of the bar for a book-signing event to celebrate the release of the Polish version of Climate Gamble. Good beer, good food, good people and friends, both old and new, all on a mission to save our climate, with a lot of laughter and love. And nuclear energy as part of the solution.

What better way to wrap up the day and the COP?

Epilogue – Distributed energy production poverty at display

Adam, an amazing local activist, my gracious host and designated driver (thank you so much once more), took me to the airport in the next morning. During the week, we had had many good conversations of the Polish energy situation and policies. One consistent theme was this:

What would happen to Polish energy prices, competitiveness and people’s living standards if (and when) the prices of emissions rights would increase in the European Emissions Trading System (ETS)? The German utilities have bought a couple years’ worth of cheap emissions rights in advance, but the polish utilities maybe didn’t have the capital to do that, so they are already feeling the sharp increase in emissions prices (from 7 euros / ton to 20 euros / ton in the last year) and have been forced to increase electricity prices as a result. This hits the poor first and worst, as they have limited amount of disposable income to start with.


Distributed energy meets energy poverty: ”For the love of God, don’t burn trash!”

Energy poverty will get real, and it might do so faster than we would like to think. Polish industrial competitiveness will suffer, leading to less jobs and less disposable income in the economy, leading to less jobs also in the services sector. And what do people do when they don’t have money to heat their house with electricity? They burn coal and even trash in their home-stoves (also in the cities, where the air is already smelly and hard to breath due to coal plants and old diesel cars).

And on the way to the airport, we saw a vivid example what that looks like. ”For the love of God, don’t burn trash!”

Thanks for reading. I’m headed back home now. Can’t wait to get to my family and put the sauna on…

Ps. The event of nuclear supporters being thrown out from the climate march that I told you about in my Day-0 report has gathered a lot of press here in Poland, with majority of the people seeing it as wrong. The discussion has started. We need to keep it going. We need to keep it focused on facts.