Natural Hazards: NA

After the news about the earthquake and tsunami in Asia broke in late 2004, I wondered if there were there any nuclear facilities on any of the affected coastlines. There has been nothing in the news about damage to nuclear facilities as a result to the quake, so I guess that luckily there weren’t any nuclear plants on the way of the tsunami. (Still, one has to wonder how they protect nuclear power plants in Japan, where both earthquakes and tsunamis can occur.)

Another thing that comes to mind when reading disaster news or watching them on TV is that we are very fortunate, because we don’t have earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes in Finland. In fact, the entry for Finland in the CIA World Factbook states: “Natural hazards: NA”.

Last night (between 2005-01-08 and 2005-01-09) the sea level in the Gulf of Finland rose due to an unusually strong and persistent wind. As far as Finland was concerned, it was a very minor incident on the global scale but still newsworthy to those living on the southern coast of Finland. There was flooding in the downtown harbor of Helsinki and in Otaniemi where the HUT campus is located. The effects in Estonia, Sweden, Denmark and Britain were more serious with severe flooding in Pärnu and Carlisle and fatalities in both Sweden and Denmark.

Today (2005-01-09) the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland issued a statement saying that the nuclear power plant in Loviisa was in the state of higher preparedness in case the flood waters rose above the safety limit and the facility had to be shut down. The statement went on to say that there was no problem in the other nuclear plant at Olkiluoto. (The situation was over later today and the Loviisa plant was not shut down.)

Interestingly enough, the statement said nothing about nearby foreign nuclear power plants, even though the sea level was expected to rise even higher towards the end of the Gulf near St. Petersburg. The status of Sosnovyi Bor, the main unit of the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, is relevant to Finland, too, because an accident there could be hazardous to Finland. (Yes, the power plant still has “Leningrad” in the name.) Like the two Finnish nuclear power plants, Sosnovyi Bor is built on the seashore, so I wondered whether Sosnovyi Bor was shutting down due to flooding. They didn’t want to shut it down even when it came to the end of its designed lifespan.

In the evening I called the public information line of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority. I mentioned that the public statement failed to address the situation with foreign nuclear power plants on the shores of the Gulf of Finland and asked what the situation with the water level was in Sosnovyi Bor and what the safety limit was. (I was assuming there was a known limit like there apparently is in Loviisa.) The person who answered the call said that Sosnovyi Bor had been contacted and there had been no danger. She said she didn’t know the numbers (the actual water level and the limit). However, she didn’t dispute the premise and relevance of the question.

I am grateful nothing bad happened at the power plants today. Still, when considering hazards to Finland, it is not particularly reassuring that Sosnovyi Bor is now operating past its designed lifespan running RBMK (Chernobyl type) reactors and when a storm of a record magnitude strikes, we only get public statements that our own power plants are being taken care of.