The climate will thank you if Finland succeeds in building nuclear district heating

Good news from VTT. The research center’s latest investigation of nuclear district heating about the carbon footprint strongly highlights how in Finland it would be worthwhile to build small nuclear power for district heating instead of burning fossil fuels.

The climate benefits of nuclear district heating would be enormous. In its life cycle assessment, VTT calculates that a Finnish startup company Steady Energyn the carbon footprint of the heat produced with the currently developed LDR-50 reactor would be only 2.4 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour during its life cycle.

For comparison. Using the same calculations, direct electric heating brings emissions of 82 grams in Finland, emissions of 25 grams in hydropower-rich Sweden and 149 grams of carbon dioxide emissions in Denmark, known as the land of wind.

Fossil emissions are hundreds of times higher

With the help of air source heat pumps, country-specific carbon dioxide emissions would drop dramatically, but they would still be clearly higher than with the LDR-50 reactor, which is being specially developed for district heat production and low-temperature industrial applications.

A direct comparison with commonly used district heat production fuels, such as coal, natural gas and peat, is overwhelming for them. Their lifetime emissions are 282, 515 and 450 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour.

What about biofuels? When biomass is used in a sustainable way, i.e. the carbon bound to the growing biomass compensates for the emissions caused by burning, the life cycle emissions, especially when using wood chips, are very close to the emissions of nuclear district heating.

Zeroing the emissions of burning wood will take time

The only problem is time. The direct lifecycle emissions of burning wood are 403 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, and 197 grams with biogas. Zeroing these emissions will take decades.

In recent years, it has also become clear that Finland’s own climate goal has fallen off the bottom, when the calculated carbon sink of forests is not what was thought in the 2010s, due to logging and forest growth slowing down.

“In Finland, district heating accounts for almost half of the entire heating market.”

The much talked about technological sinks can fix the shortcomings of the carbon sink of forests, but more solutions like nuclear district heating are definitely needed.

In Finland, the share of district heating is almost half of the entire heating market. Cutting the carbon footprint of municipal district heating networks is one of the most important energy challenges in the coming years.

Steady Energy and similar small nuclear power developers should get their projects to the commercial stage in the next decade at the latest – sooner rather than later.

The author is the editor-in-chief of Kauppalehti.

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