Poland tries again to go nuclear

By bne IntelliNews February 2, 2011

Bogdan Turek in Warsaw -

For the second time in 20 years, Poland has launched plans to construct its first nuclear plant, in the teeth of criticism by experts who describe the project as unrealistic and an unnecessary expenditure when money is tight.

"It is our ambitious, but realistic plan," insisted Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who released a detailed construction schedule following the meeting of his cabinet on January 25 that calls for the plant to be online in 2020.

Tusk said all the regulations dealing with nuclear law will be approved by June 30, the location for the new plant will be selected by the end of 2013, and construction will begin on January 1, 2016. Out of 28 locations competing for the plant, Zarnowiec on the Baltic coast is rated as the best prospect once again. The former construction site was abandoned in 1990 due to protests from citizens unnerved by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. And unlike a draft plan presented by the government two years ago that called for a second nuclear plant to be completed by 2022, the new schedule says that the construction of the second facility will be extended to 2030.

Krzysztof Zmijewski, a leading energy expert who heads the government programme for reducing CO2 emissions, says the construction of two plants with a generating capacity of 6,000-6,400 megawatts (MW) by 2030 will require "a huge sum" ranging from €24bn to €28.8bn. Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), the country's largest producer of electricity, is in charge of building the two plants. It does not intend to cover the construction costs on its own and is in the process of forming an international consortium in which it would have a majority share of 51%.

Zmijewski says besides plant construction, the project will need a still unspecified amount of extra money to build infrastructure around the facilities and delivery grids. "This money will come not from the investors' pockets but from the budget [which] means from taxpayers' pockets," he says. So far, the government has not drawn up concrete plans for the construction of new grids.

The construction of the nuclear plants will be accompanied by the costly implementation of the national programme for reducing emissions under the EU's climate package, which obliges the 27 member states to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020. The estimated implementation cost to modernise Poland's obsolete energy sector, 91% of which is dependent on coal, could cost up €320bn by 2030, according to Zmijewski.

Green with envy

However, critics say this nuclear plan isn't the way forward. Grzegorz Wisniewski, CEO of the Institute for Renewable Energy, says if completed on time by 2020, the first plant would generate just 2% of the country's electricity, with the lion's share continuing to be generated by restructured coal-fired plants employing carbon-friendly technologies or natural gas. "It is an insignificant amount as regards the total energy production," Wisniewski says, who doubts the project will be fulfilled. "The project is so ambitious that it looks unrealistic. The government is already more than one year behind the schedule and it focuses too much on the issue which is not certain."

Experts are urging the government to reconsider its nuclear programme and focus more on production of electricity from renewables such as biomass, wind or solar power. "I am very sceptical as regards construction of nuclear plants in Poland because the construction costs are huge," says Maciej Nowicki, a former environment minister. "We should develop green sources of energy instead."

Nowicki says Poland should be building biogas facilities on a mass scale in rural areas, which would generate as much electricity as one planned nuclear plant.

In a report, "The Energy Revolution for Poland," the Polish branch of Greenpeace notes the government has chosen the wrong road and failed to put more emphasis on the green energy growth that has been seen in counties like Denmark, Germany or the UK. "Greenpeace is calling on the Polish government to follow the same road and focus on the clean green technologies," says the report.

It notes that 27% of electricity in Denmark comes from green sources, while the UK intends to have 50% of electricity in 12 years from renewables. Poland's target in the climate package is to have production of electricity from green sources reach 15% by 2020. Currently, just 8% of total electricity production is green.

The report also says that faster growth of electricity from renewables could result in Poland reaching 26% of the total in 2020 and 80% in 2050, while the share of coal-based electricity production would dwindle to 7% by 2050. "Unfortunately, the government plans ignore the renewables and envisage further growth of CO2 emissions due to heavy reliance on coal," notes the report.

Wisniewski says the government is also ignoring tough new regulations on safety that will make the costs of production of electricity from the new nuclear plants uncompetitive compared with the power generated by green sources of energy. "The government is supporting a project which is more expensive than the development of renewables."

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