Poland's nuclear plans take shape

By bne IntelliNews February 2, 2010

Jaroslaw Adamowski in Warsaw -

While Germany is busy phasing-out its nuclear power plants in order to meet obligations made back in 2000 and Lithuania reluctantly shuts down its Ignalina nuclear plant due to its pre-accession pledge to the EU, Poland has been moving in quite a different direction.

The country's nuclear programme has been increasingly taking shape up as expectations for diminishing dependence on energy imports are high in Poland. In 2010, the government plans to convince the Poles that nuclear energy is a safe and environment-friendly source of energy. And, if everything works out, accessible 10 years from now.

The government rough aim is to launch the first nuclear plant in 2020, as starting from that year additional carbon dioxide (CO2) emission rights that the EU has accorded to the Polish energy sector will have expired. By this time, should Poland's industry remain as dependent on coal-generated energy as it is at present, energy prices would skyrocket and consequences for the economy could be grave.

On December 28, the largest state-controlled energy holding, Polish Group of Energy (PGE), registered a subsidiary company PGE Nuclear Energy, which has been set up to handle the government contract for the construction of two nuclear energy plants, with the first one projected to be launched in 2020 and the second one possibly in 2025. The estimated costs of building the two nuclear plants with a power output of 3,000 megawatts each is €18bn.

According to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Waldemar Pawlak, by 2030 approximately 15% of the country's energy would be produced by the two nuclear plants, and its heavy dependence on coal, at present Poland's prime energy source, would diminish from 90% to 57%, the Polish news agency PAP reported. "We want to diversify our energy generation portfolio so that we can use a wider range of non-emissive energy sources, but on the other hand, we do not want to disregard the basis of our energy security, which is using our own natural resources", Pawlak said.

Poland's nuclear energy cooperation with France was made a pillar of the programme, as announced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk during the latter's visit to Paris on November 5. Following Tusk's visit, a memorandum on cooperation was signed by Poland's PGE and Electricité de France (EDF), setting frameworks for Poland's purchase of two European Pressurized Reactors (EPR), manufactured by the French Areva firm, and setting them up. Three agreements on scientific research and formation were also signed between Polish scientific institutions and the French Commission for Atomic Energy (CEA).

Polish Nimbies

The government has already prepared a list of 28 potential locations for the first plant, but the dissent that could be triggered in local communities remains a major concern, and the opposition would probably try to spin political capital from it. So far, the most widely mooted location is in Zarnowiec, northern Poland, where back in the 1980s the communist authorities wanted to put a nuclear plant. Still, the final decision among three to five location proposals will be made by PGE, expected to be in possession of a 51% stake of the planned consortium that will build and operate the plants.

In early 2010, the government plans to kick off a PLN40m (€9.85m) four-year information campaign in the media, intended to dispel Poles' traditional distrust of nuclear energy, in part stemming from the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 in next-door Ukraine. According to a poll carried out by the country's National Atomic Energy Agency, 47% of the polled were in favour of developing nuclear energy, while 38% opposed it. However, when asked whether they would agree to neighbour a nuclear powerhouse, only 43% consented and 47% objected to such a site being developed near their home. "The campaign's main aim is to provide information on nuclear energy as a safe alternative to other energy sources and to raise general awareness about it", says Piotr Zbikowski, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Economy. "Nuclear energy simply cannot be introduced in Poland without the society's consent, and for this purpose, reliable information is crucial."

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