Finnish cities explore small reactors to decarbonise heating


Finnish cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Kirkkonummi, with others possibly following, are exploring whether it would be feasible to replace coal and natural gas in district heating with small modular nuclear reactors (SMR’s).

Key points:

  1. Political initiatives for feasibility studies on the potential for small nuclear reactors (SMRs) to replace fossil fuel burning have been started in several cities around the Helsinki metropolitan area.
  2. Several advanced SMR’s are in development and coming to market by 2030 that could meet the specifications.
  3. Ecomodernist Society of Finland has been fostering the dialogue for two years in Finland, organizing seminars and publishing reports on heat decarbonization with advanced and small nuclear reactors.

Most of the district heating in Finland is produced by burning coal, natural gas, wood fuels and peat. While many Finnish cities have progressive climate policies and goals, they have struggled to decarbonize heating and liquid fuels. Cities in the Helsinki metropolitan area will therefore assess the potential for small nuclear reactors in district heating.

Helsinki was the first, with two active city council members – Petrus Pennanen(Pirate party) and Atte Harjanne (Green Party) working together with the Ecomodernist Society of Finland to draft the initiative and bring advanced, small reactors into the public decarbonization discussion and media.

“More than half of the greenhouse emissions of all of Helsinki come from district heating, mainly run by fossil fuels. If we are serious about decarbonizing Helsinki, we need to at least take an honest look at these upcoming reactors”, says Petrus Pennanen, Helsinki city council member and vice chair of the Finnish Pirate Party, who also has a PhD in nuclear physics.

Atte Harjanne, a climate change researcher at the Finnish meteorological institute and a Green party representative at the Helsinki city council, agrees. “Nuclear has proven – despite the early fears the environmental movement grew up with – to be a safe, fast and cost-effective way to decarbonize the energy sector. It deserves a look at a level playing field.”

Rauli Partanen, vice-chair of The Ecomodernist Society of Finland and an independent energy analyst and author, also sees significant economic possibilities in doing combined heat and power (CHP) with nuclear reactors. “With CHP, the reactor could produce roughly twice the value per installed capacity compared with just electricity production, while at the same time decarbonizing heat production”, Rauli says. “Nuclear is great for baseload needs, but with advanced technologies such as high temperature reactors and high temperature electrolysis, we can use nuclear to decarbonize not just electricity, heat but also transportation fuels and many industries”.

Rauli Partanen is the author of a study published in September 2017 by Ecomodernist Society of Finland and Energy for Humanity. The study inspected how we could decarbonize Helsinki Metropolitan Area energy sector completely with advanced nuclear reactors. Rauli continues: “I’m very glad that the Ecomodernist Society of Finland has enabled people to get to know this technology and each other, and can help coordinate progressive ideas like this.”

Petrus Pennanen says that while he penned the original initiative for Helsinki, a further goal was to get other, surrounding cities doing something similar. “Most of the district heating networks in the area are interconnected, so it makes sense to include the whole area in the study. I’m very excited to learn that Espoo and Kirkkonummi are also interested, and welcome other cities to join as well. This is the most progressive climate initiative in years, and I’m looking forward to the Helsinki metropolitan area showing the way for other northern cities in the world how to make major emission reductions happen in reality.”

For more information, see contact info below.
Rauli Partanen, Vice chair @ Ecomodernist Society of Finland, independent author,, +358 50 5603544
Petrus Pennanen, Helsinki city council member, Chairman @ Pirate Party,
Atte Harjanne, Helsinki city council member, Green Party,

Ecomodernist society of Finland is an environmental NGO that aims for evidence based policy advocating.

Decarbonizing Cities Report (pdf)
Deep Decarbonization with Advanced Nuclear Seminar (videos of the seminar)

Energy for Humanity is an environmental NGO that support all clean energy sources to fight climate change and to lift poor people from poverty by offering them modern energy services.