Ep 48: Toni Hemminki - Chief Executive Officer, Fennovoima
Q: Tell me about your background.
A: Toni Hemminki grew up in a coastal village in Finland whose economy was formed around the paper mill industry. Hemminki studied environmental technology at the Lappeenranta University of Technology after serving his time in the Finnish military. During his time in school, Hemminki recognized that climate change cannot be solved through technology alone. Hemminki’s master’s thesis was spent at a steel factory completing life cycle analysis and carbon footprint calculations for the factory.
Q: Were these life cycle analyses regulated or voluntary?
A: Toni Hemminki’s life cycle analyses completed at the steel factory were completely voluntary, as the companies believed there would be competitive advantages and benefits. During his fifteen years at the steel company, Hemminki rose from his role as a master’s thesis researcher to the head of strategy, technology, and energy and environmental sustainability. Energy efficiency was at the core of the company’s strategy, in order to maximize production of high strength steel and other specialty products. SSAB, a Swedish steel company, bought Finnish-based Rautaruukki, bringing two competitors together to combine strategy. Hemminki was the production planning head of the Rautaruukki side of the company and was in charge of energy procurement. The steel company consumed a large quantity of electricity and decided to invest in energy production, specifically interested in wind and nuclear. A group of Finnish businesses joined together to form a new nuclear company.
Q: Did the steel company pursue nuclear power for price stability?
A: Rautaruukki, where Toni Hemminki served as production planning head, and other Finnish companies decided to invest in a new nuclear company in order to provide price stability and lucrative price levels. Even though the economic climate has changed, Hemminki believes in the feasibility and low price over a long lifetime of the nuclear plants. The fossil fuel energy industries support wind and solar power because of its intermittent capabilities, and anything else is a threat to their industry. Finland is losing energy capacity as old coal plants are shut down and new plants have not been built yet.
Q: Who are the other parties involved in the creation of this new nuclear company?
A: While Toni Hemminki was not personally involved in the original discussions about the creation of a new nuclear company, Rautaruukki as a company, Outokumpu Stainless Steel and a regional electricity municipality decided to move forward with the investment. The stable price and carbon-free emissions of nuclear power were the two major factors in the decision to go nuclear. In Finland, and in most of Europe, there is emissions trading which requires permits to emit carbon dioxide. This creates an additional volatility effect on the electricity market, so both the market and procurement can be improved by eliminating carbon emissions. Fortum, the biggest electricity utility in Finland, which also owns assets across other countries, has two nuclear power plants in operation with plans for decommissioning. TVO also has two nuclear units in operation, with a third in production. In previous plants, there were many redesigns during the construction phase. Now, there is more regulation during design phase and plant management systems are developed even before the design. The modern nuclear industry has very strong safety, communication, and information sharing programs.
Q: How did you come into the role as CEO of Fennovoima?
A: Toni Hemminki now serves as the CEO of Fennovoima, a nuclear company that was formed by a cooperation of multiple Finnish companies as an investment in energy production. Hemminki’s background in energy procurement brought many high level connections within the electricity industry to Fennovoima. These investments came at a time right after the recession when the overall economic growth had slowed down and nobody else was investing. Fennovoima is building a pressurized water nuclear reactor with Rosatom, a Russian supplier, in central Finland. Rosatom was the most competitive bid for this project, with Areva and Toshiba also submitting bids.
Q: What’s the community’s reception of where you are going to build the site, at both the local and national level?
A: Toni Hemminki views Finnish people as very pragmatic with a need to be self-sufficient. This combination of values has resulted in many pro-nuclear people in the Finnish population, as well as open mindedness regarding new technology. The percentage of support is even greater in the community in which Fennovoima’s nuclear plant is being constructed, Pyhäjoki, as it brings jobs, community significance, and culture. The Finnish and Russian nations cooperate economically as neighbors, for example, supporting Russian nuclear suppliers, and gained more support from the public. The site preparation at Pyhäjoki has begun, including utility work and supporting infrastructure construction. Licensing for the nuclear plant is currently underway. Fennovoima brought a group of 150 designers to Helsinki to improve communication and cooperation throughout the design process.
Q: What advice would you give to other companies that want to build nuclear plants?
A: Toni Hemminki encourages younger companies to reach out to other nuclear companies and seek out information already available about building nuclear plants. Questions about what is important in being successful in building and implementing plant design is valuable for all. There is a priority for safety in operating plants, and control rooms have to be very organized with detailed descriptions of instructions for different scenarios. Room for critical thinking is necessary in the control room and at the center of operations. Distinguishing different roles and responsibilities is vital to the success of an operating plant.