As Polish president Andrzej Duda prepares a convenient preelection trip to Washington to get his picture taken with Donald Trump, his Climate Minister has reopened the thorny issue of the country's nuclear ambitions.
Poland's nuclear power plan may be of special interest to the deal-making US president after the Polish climate minister Michal Kurtyka announced this week that construction of the first nuclear power plant in Poland should start in 2026, the first reactor in 2033 and that by 2040 six nuclear blocks should be in operation.
Under its draft Energy Policy to 2040, Poland targets 20 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity from nuclear energy by 2035, with the new reactors expected to have an estimated service lifespan of 60 to 80 years, Kurtyka said.
"This is a big program, but when it is completed Poland will have 20%, or little more than 20%, of stable and safe energy produced in nuclear power plants for the next 60 years," said Piotr Naimski, government commissioner for strategic energy infrastructure. Officially, Poland aims to cut the share of coal in its electricity mix from 80% to 32% by 2040 and to introduce nuclear power accounting for 18% of total capacity.
Kurtyka said the nuclear power would not be limited to electricity sector and that the country is researching high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) technology to serve its chemical and fertilizer industries that today rely on cogeneration plants that will need to be replaced within the next 15 years.
The European Green Deal Investment Plan, which the European Commission unveiled in January, aims to help coal-producing regions move away from fossil fuels. Poland said it would wait and see what financial incentives would be on offer and later announced it had secured an exemption from the EU's 2050 climate target. The Green Deal overlooks nuclear power, however, as does the green recovery plan from the coronavirus pandemic the European Commission announced in May.
Poland should "massively expand" its wind and solar power capacity to replace its coal-fired fleet in order to become carbon neutral by 2050 at a total cost of €380 billion ($410 billion), consultancy McKinsey said this week. Poland's energy mix should also include up to 10 gigawatts (GW) nuclear power, its report added.
"Two-thirds of coal-fired power plants in Poland are over 30 years old... by 2050 their replacement will be necessary... it creates opportunity for zero-emission technologies to take over," the report noted. In addition to installing wind, Poland should also add 18 GW of gas-fired plants, up from the 2 GW currently installed.
Love me tenders
While in Washington in February, Climate Minister Naimski announced the tender process for developers interested in participating in Poland's first nuclear power plant project would soon be getting underway. He noted that US companies were keen to cooperate with Warsaw.
Global nuclear power giants EDF-Areva, Westinghouse, GE Hitachi, AECL and KHNP already submitted bids in an earlier public tender launched by the state-owned Polish Energy Company PGE, while Japan's Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Toshiba are also reportedly interested.
Nuclear energy a tough sell in Poland
PGE EJ 1, the nuclear subsidiary of Polska Grupa Energetyczna, is reportedly tasked with managing construction of Poland's nuclear power plants. Construction of the first plant could begin in four years in the village of Zarnowiec, which lies on the Baltic Sea and is just 150 kilometers (93 miles) away from the German border.
The Baltic Sea town of Mielno is another of three sites selected, even after its residents voted against an earlier similar plan in 2012, with German citizens living in the neighboring Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania region across the border having joined the petition.
The third nuclear site reportedly will be near Belchatow in central Poland.
Poland's plans have already raised concern in Germany. Berlin is angry because an environmental impact assessment has not been carried out by the Polish side. In a letter sent to Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) at the end of November 2019, Green MP Sylvia Kotting-Uhl said this was "incomprehensible and unacceptable."
But in a letter to Berlin, a state secretary at Poland's Ministry of State Assets, Artur Strabon, wrote that a strategic environmental impact assessment for the Energy Strategy 2040 had "no potentially significant environmental impacts on other member states."
More symbolic than real?
Wladyslaw Mielczarski, a professor at the Institute of Electric Power Engineering at the Technical University of Lodz, Poland, is skeptical about his country's nuclear plan, arguing that "few believe in its implementation."
"Poland was an exception in the Soviet Bloc in not having a nuclear power plant," he told DW, adding that the reuturn to this discussion 30 years later was merely "symbolic."
He's analyzed sentiment within the EU to nuclear power and thinks "the atom is passé…and some attempts in the UK cannot change it."
The professor cites the story of earlier nuclear ambitions in Poland which saw the emergence of a National Nuclear Plan already in 2008 and the establishment of a PGE subsidiary called Nuclear Power 1 aiming to prepare for the investment.
"But after three years, the plan was called off because Donald Tusk [Polish prime minister at the time] moved to Brussels," Mielczarski says, noting that the project cost got out of hand after rising from an estimated €8.5 billion ($10 billion) to €12.8 billion.