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A Helsinki Workweek
August 29-Sept 4
Written September 11
Friends and Families ,
This is another one of those diaries that REALLY has little new of general interest. Mostly, it is a record of a trip, in this case a business trip, so I can remember when I have gone where. In the past, I have had jobs where travel was so common that it was never note-worthy but now, other than Offenbach my second home, I really don't have to spend time in new places.
So, this week-long trip to Finland was notable, even if little notable happened.
I was attending a conference on "lessons learned" during the design and construction of Europe's first new nuclear power plant in a decade or two, the one at Olkiluoto referred to as OL3. Now, "lessons learned" really means "mistakes made" and, at OL3, our company AREVA has been the primary lesson learner. Consequently, we needed to send a few observers to see exactly what folks were saying about us.
However, since I needed to fly on Sunday, I arrived in Helsinki early enough to wander a bit around town. Marianne and I have been here a few times and it remains one of my favorite European cities. It is filled with youth and energy, has an interesting history, and centers around a fascinating and picturesque waterfront.
On my Sunday walk, I saw folks walking kids and dogs, boats coming, going, and anchored - some permanently on display. Here are a couple pages of pictures.
For the record, I stayed at the convention hotel, the Sokos Hotel Presidentti, large, a bit worn, but friendly and centrally located. For restaurants, Helsinki holds quite a selection but I'll admit, on the two nights I wasn't booked with business meals, I chose a non-Finnish-sounding restaurant, The Manhattan Steak House. (The website is in Finnish, but it will illustrate the ease with which one can browse the language -- NOT.) The steak house just struck a nice middle ground, nice but not terribly expensive. The latter is a concern since Helsinki is one of the most expensive cities in Europe and even though this was a business trip, I try to stick within a "normal" budget.
The conference itself, was interesting for those of us in this particular part of a very specific business. Twenty or more countries were represented by over 250 people. As the star company for lesson learning, I was glad I did not have to give an AREVA presentation. Part of that job fell upon my French boss, although he did use a presentation I had drafted. We are VERY careful about what we say about OL3 and the presentation had taken six weeks to be reviewed by assorted company folks. My boss had to read the script he'd written very carefully.
Wednesday evening, we were all piled onto four buses and driven three hours over to the west coast, in preparation for Thursday's tour of Olkiluoto itself . My bus went to to the Hotel Cumulus in Pori, a serviceable hotel in a plain town. I had been here before and had no expectations other than a night's sleep.
We were back on busses at 7:15 Thursday morning for the 20 minute drive to Olkiluoto. The weather was pleasant, a bit cool, but this is northern Europe after all. The scenery along the way was forested, flat, and decorated with rock outcroppings, not unlike the rest of the country, I believe.
Our first stop was the visitor's center, where we received our badges and had the first of several hours wandering though the exhibitions about nuclear power. These are good exhibitions, but even for us insiders, things got a little boring.
Our group's first bus destination was the underground caverns where "low level" radioactive waste is disposed of. Sixty meters underground, in the granite rock that underlies all of Finland, the power company has carved out two massive silos where contaminated waste such as protective clothing is placed. I think Finland needs to be commended on allowing tours to see the facility since it makes the whole waste-disposal situation less mysterious.
The repository for high-level waste (used fuel) will also be built under Olkiluoto Island. Currently, the deep storage options are being studied as part of the ONKALA joint venture. Again, the small nation of Finland has managed to have a solution where other nations are still spending billions and failing to resolve what is more a political than a technical problem (my opinion, I'll admit.)
After the waste caverns, we re-boarded our bus and drove around the power plants on site. There are two existing plants, OL1 and OL2, and our new one, OL3, still under construction. The older plants have an operating record that is among the best in the world. They just keep running, at full-power, 92% of the time, year after year.
As for our new plant, the view from the bus window reinforced the image of a massive, massive undertaking. We have been pouring concrete for years but that phase seems to be ending. Now we need to fill the structures with equipment, connected it all together, and "turn it on". I started my career as part of crews that "turned on" power plants like this, but I'll admit this one would intimidate me.
After the tours, our day was filled with a pleasant lunch at the visitor's center and an afternoon of presentations of lessons from OL3. Good, in a nerdy sort of way. At 4:30, we piled back onto the buses for the long, flat, trip back to Helsinki. Again, not a dramatic countryside, but pleasant and solid. That, perhaps, is my overall summary for the place -- and the people.
Friday was more presentations, another dinner at the Manhattan Steak House, and early to bed. The airport taxi would come the next day at 4:45 in the very early morning. The flights from Helsinki to Munich and on to Nuremberg were uneventful, as they should be. I was home before lunch on Saturday.
Saturday was spent helping Marianne start a recovery from a very bad back problem that had occurred while I was away. Such things are another reason why I do not like business travel, even to pleasant and comfortable places like Finland.
So, that's the record. Useful for us, but I can't imagine this becoming a favorite with our small audience.
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