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Slovaks fuel up their NPP while Swedes struggle with one of theirs

Slovak power utility company “Slovenské elektrárne” has completed loading fuel to the long-delayed Mochovce 3 nuclear power plant, said the plant’s director. Meanwhile, Nordic countries will be facing potential troubles with electric power generation this coming winter.

The 471-megawatt unit is one of the few new nuclear units to come online as Europe struggles with a power supply crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to the plant’s director, Martin Mráz, the unit is expected to begin producing electricity in late October or early November. “We will be at full production at the beginning of 2023,” Mráz said.

The new unit will produce around 3.7 terawatt-hours per year, covering 13 pct. of Slovakia’s electricity consumption and rendering the country self-sufficient according to the director.

Slovakia will become a net electricity exporter after “Slovenské elektrárne” completes Mochovce Unit 4, with about a two-year lag after Unit 3. Construction was halted in the 1990s and resumed in 2008, but has suffered repeated delays and cost overruns.

Nordic power source troubles

The crisis has been brought about by Russia cutting the supply of energy resources to Europe in retaliation for the heavy sanctions against Moscow following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and has affected numerous European countries, which are scrambling to find other substitute sources of energy. While Slovakia’s nuclear power plant will go online soon, Sweden has suffered a setback with one of its plants.

Swedish utility company Vattenfall announced on Tuesday it had delayed the restarting of the Ringhals 4 nuclear reactor by two months, until January 31.

“The unforeseen required repairs are taking more time than expected, before starting up the unit after the yearly maintenance,” Vattenfall said in a regulatory filing.

Vattenfall had already extended ongoing maintenance at Ringhals 4, which has an installed capacity of 1,130 (MW) by three months at the end of August, with the cited reason being damage to a key component during testing.

The damage requires a full-size mock-up of the 12-metre tall structure to be constructed in order for the maintenance crew to practice and test work methods, components, and special tools that will need to be produced for cleaning the pressure vessel and installing new spare parts.

Pontus de Maré, Head of Power System Operations at national grid operator “Svenska kraftnät” said the import need would increase from the normal 36 to 149 hours if Ringhals is not put back online for the winter. He added that with the current extension, risks of power shortages and blackouts in southern Sweden had increased. The prices could also be affected.

“If we get a big import need, and it’s difficult to get hold of enough effect while demand is very high, prices will shoot up very high single hours, single days. Prices can become extreme,” said de Maré.

Tor Reier Lilleholt, a Norwegian power market analyst, said the Ringhals 4 outage could also put pressure on prices in neighbouring countries. “If we have a cold winter, this could lead to extreme effects in the market as it would be difficult to replace this power.”

One of the countries affected may be Finland. Russia suspended the sale of electric power to the country when it announced its intention to join NATO. This was of little consequence at the time, in May, as only 10 pct. of Finnish energy was imported from Russia. But if the winter proves harsh, Finland may have to resort to importing power from Sweden.

“On a cold day in case of severe frost, Finland would need to import a significant amount of electricity from Sweden so this is very bad news for Finland,” said Jukka Ruusunen, the CEO of the Finnish power grid operator Fingrid.

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