Walking along the beach and swimming in the Baltic Sea, you will be able to see it clearly – Poland’s first nuclear power plant. In the town of Lubiatowo-Kopalino, the first of a total of six reactors is scheduled to go online in 2033.
No country in Europe is as dependent on coal as Poland. No other country emits as much CO₂ per kilowatt hour of electricity. Coal is of course also used for heating. But the raw material is becoming scarce, depending on the calculation, mining will still be profitable for another 20 or 30 years. Coal is also expensive because Poland has to pay a price for every tonne of CO₂ emitted.
An undoubtedly emission-free source
By 2049, the country should completely do without hard coal and lignite. For this, the coal areas receive billions in funding from the EU from the Just Transition Fund. In the year 2040, according to the Polish energy plan, more than half of the energy production should be emission-free. In Germany, which is also a coal country, this is already the case. In the Czech Republic, about a third of the electricity comes from coal.
As a way out of the impending energy shortage, the Polish government is now presenting a source that is undoubtedly emission-free: nuclear power. So far, Poland has no nuclear power plants, now two could be built. The Czech Republic is also focusing on the expansion of existing nuclear power plants, and according to the official political position there are hardly any opportunities for renewable energy sources in the country.
Construction work on Poland’s first nuclear power plant, about 90 kilometers north of Gdansk, is scheduled to begin in 2026, and the first reactor should be completed in 2033. Then five more at two-year intervals. In November, the Polish government signed a contract with the US company Westinghouse.
The nearby Baltic Sea is considered an ideal reservoir for the large amounts of cooling water that a nuclear power plant requires. A nuclear power plant was planned very close by, in Żarnowiec, and the ruins of the plant, which was never completed, are still standing. Begun in the early 1980s, construction came to a standstill during the period of reunification, the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the Soviet Union prevented the investment, it no longer seemed necessary and also not profitable.
“The quickest and cheapest way is to expand renewable energy sources.”
Energy experts have their doubts as to whether nuclear power is today. The construction will cost many billions of euros, and the output of the reactors cannot replace that of the coal-fired power plants. It takes more than that. However, from the point of view of economist Aleksandra Gawlikowska-Fyk from the think tank Forum Energii, this is missing. “The quickest and cheapest way is to expand renewable energy sources,” she says on the phone. But from their point of view, there is not enough progress. “The current government has never been particularly interested in renewable energy.”
For example, under the right-wing populist government, there is a 10-hour distance requirement for wind turbines, similar to that in Bavaria. A wind turbine must therefore be ten times as far away from the next building as it is tall. A political discussion about it, which was initiated in the spring, has already petered out. After all, there is approval for offshore wind turbines in the Baltic Sea, says Gawlikowska-Fyk. She also sees progress in the expansion of photovoltaics. However, investors complain about the lack of feed-in options into the power grid.
Nuclear power is not particularly controversial, neither among the political parties nor among the population. In 2009, today’s opposition under the government of Donald Tusk made a first fundamental decision in favor of nuclear power. He is still convinced today that nuclear power is necessary to reduce CO₂ emissions in electricity generation. Other opposition politicians accept nuclear power, at least for a transitional period.
The construction also has an important foreign policy component
The decision would therefore not change under a possible new government after the election in autumn 2023. Especially since the construction still has an important foreign policy component. It’s a good deal for everyone, US Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted after the contract with Westinghouse was signed: “We are responding to the climate crisis, securing European energy security and deepening Poland’s strategic relations with the United States.”
The largest Polish energy supplier, Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), is already tackling a second project. More reactors could be built in Wielkopolska in a landscape shaped by open-cast lignite mining, more precisely in the village of Pątnów in the south-west of the country, about 70 kilometers north of the pilgrimage town of Częstochowa. The South Korean company Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) may be awarded the contract there. A cooperation agreement with PGE was concluded at the end of October.
The South Korean company, like the US company Westinghouse, is also interested in building the new unit at the Czech nuclear power plant Dukovany near Brno. The French EDF Group is also taking part in the tender. Companies from China and Russia are not allowed. For decades, the Czech Republic has been generating up to a third of its electricity requirements from nuclear energy and also exports to the surrounding countries, including to neighboring Germany and Austria, which are critical of nuclear power.
It was decided many years ago that Dukovany should get a new kiln to replace a disused one, and so far every government has stuck to this resolution. What is new is that the semi-public energy supplier ČEZ is also committed to so-called mini-reactors, a technology that is still being developed and that some people believe can be used quickly and locally. The mini-reactors could be built on the site of the Temelín nuclear power plant near Budweis. From the point of view of economists like Gawlikowska-Fyk, however, they are by no means cheaper than renewable energy sources, and the development is taking too long to help in the current crisis.