Poland plans nuclear power plant on the Baltic Sea
Poland wants to get big into nuclear energy. The country’s first nuclear power plant is to be built north-west of Gdansk on the Baltic Sea. In Poland, the majority of citizens are in favor of nuclear power, criticism comes from Germany.
Large storage jars with dried porcini mushrooms stand on the green tiled stove. Joanna Zwierzchowska looks out over the snow-covered Pomeranian landscape through the floor-to-ceiling windows of her dining room. “This is my oasis,” says the 51-year-old businesswoman, who runs a travel agency in Gdansk.
But the idyll is endangered. Because Zwierzchowska’s house is in Slajszewo, a village on the Polish coast of the Baltic Sea. Nearby, a good 80 kilometers northwest of Gdansk and about 300 kilometers from the border with Germany, Poland’s first nuclear power plant is expected to be built. This is met with resistance not only in the region. In Germany, too, the Polish nuclear plans are being followed with concern.
US group is awarded the contract
At the beginning of November, Poland’s national conservative PiS government awarded the contract to the US company Westinghouse to build the country’s first nuclear power plant. The construction costs are said to be the equivalent of 18.6 billion euros. Climate and Environmental Protection Minister Anna Moskwa said somewhat vaguely about the location that the preference applies “to the Kopalino-Lubiatowo area”. This is the neighboring town of Slajszewo.
According to the strategy paper “Poland’s energy policy up to 2040” presented in 2021, which was updated after the outbreak of the Ukraine war, construction of the first reactor block should start by 2026 at the latest. Every two years after 2033, another nuclear power plant is to go into service. By 2043 there should be six nuclear power plants. Warsaw also wants to promote the construction of so-called small modular reactors (SMR) by private investors.
Nuclear power instead of coal
The nuclear power plants are intended to help Poland phase out coal – the country currently generates almost 80 percent of its energy from hard coal and lignite. Not only the high emission values are a problem. According to forecasts by the State Geological Institute, the hard coal projects suitable for mining will still be sufficient for 50 years – brown coal could be over in 20 years.
The mood in Polish society has changed with the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis. As recently as June 2021, 45 percent of Poles were against nuclear power, 39 percent in favor. In a recent survey, the proportion of supporters is 75 percent.
Joanna Zwierzchowska steers her SUV along the sandy path that leads to the wide sandy beach of Slajszewo. Blue metal bollards stick out of the ground in a pine forest behind the dunes. Soil samples for the possible nuclear power plant site were taken here.
Nuclear power opponents defamed as “German agents”.
“The entire ecosystem of this Baltic Sea region is endangered,” says the activist, who is mobilizing in the citizens’ initiative Ostsee-SOS against the planned construction. Yellow posters with the slogans “Stop Atom” and “No to the nuclear power plant in Slajszewo” are hanging on some garden fences in Slajszewo and the surrounding villages. The protest is not big. Some citizens are against it, but they don’t want to put up any posters, says Zwierzchowska. Nuclear power opponents are often defamed by the proponents as “German agents”.
The reference to Germany is no coincidence: the four federal states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony and Berlin have asked Poland to stop the project. “Against the background of the devastating nuclear accidents in Chernobyl and Fukushima, plans for the further use of nuclear energy should be abandoned in the interests of the population and the environment of all Baltic Sea countries,” said a statement published in mid-December.
With four strokes of his ballpoint pen, Mayor Wislaw Gebka marks the spot on a map where the nuclear power plant should be. “I don’t know of any community in the world that would be thrilled if everything was destroyed,” says the head of administration for the Choczewo community, to which Slajszewo belongs. Many people in the coastal region live from renting holiday apartments and are afraid that their livelihoods will be destroyed. “But as an official, I have to represent the interests of the opponents and the interests of the supporters, while at the same time taking into account the situation in Poland, which needs a place to build the nuclear power plant.”
It would not be Poland’s first attempt to build a nuclear power plant near the Baltic Sea. Zarnowiec is only 23 kilometers away from Slajszewo. Poland’s first nuclear power plant was to be built there during the communist period. Today, a huge ruined building with weathered concrete blocks and rusty steel bars towers into the sky. The prestige project, started in the 80s, was abandoned in 1990. Because after the Chernobyl catastrophe, resistance to nuclear power also grew in Poland. “That’s my biggest concern,” says Mayor Gebka, “that things are going the same way here as they did in Zarnowiec.”