Atomic Policy in Poland

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Overview on Poland's Atomic Politics

Poland since the 1950s always followed a clearly pro-nuclear policy, mostly expressed in a wide range of nuclear research activities. However, until today, Poland never has made uses of atomic power for commercial energy production, nor have there ever been intentions to set up a nuclear industry, neither for for nuclear fuel production nor to obtain fissile material for military use.

Nevertheless, Poland has to deal with waste amounts of radioactive waste, originating mostly from its research reactors and to a far smaller degree from medical accessories. Those wastes consist of low and intermediate level radioactive waste being stored in an old Russian fortress, while all high level radioactive spent fuels have been and are still being transferred to Russia. The atomic capacities of Poland these days only consist of one research reactor near Warszawa with a nominal power of 30 MW. Altogether, there have been 5 reactors on Polish territory since 1958. Environmental problems connected to atomic energy occurred in Poland basically as a result of uranium mining. This took place in lower Silesia during the 1950s and '60s. There are still several 100 abandoned dumps of waste rock and an uncovered tailing pond, which was supposed to be part of a remediation project in 2004.

In 1980 Poland once already had begun constructing of two commercial atomic power plants. The catastrophe of Chernobyl and the end of the communist regime in 1989 led to the abortion of construction work, and Poland's energy supplement remained based on coal. After the millennium, new plans for the implementation of a domestic nuclear industry with a core of two commercial power plants were developed. In 2011 the Polish parliament approved a proposal to build these plants until 2023. This has been accompanied by activities in lower Silesia to explore potentials for new uranium mining. Poland also will have to build a new repository for the long-term highly radioactive waste which would be produced in the new plants.

New uranium mining

Two companies, Pol Skal and European Resources, are suspected to plan on new uranium mining in lower Silesia. This seems reasonable since uranium prices at the world market are continuously pretty high, so that even the poor ores of Silesia might be economically exploitable. Plans for uranium mining have not yet been officially confirmed, nonetheless inhabitants of the area are already organizing protests.

Most recently voices – even official ones – are rising up in Poland that in sight of Poland's enormous potentials in gas exploitation by the newly developed fracturing method nuclear power might become expendable once more. Poland's gas reserves that possibly could be taken out off the ground by fracturing are supposed to be so vast, that they might cover Poland's energy needs for the whole century in a rather cheap and possibly more accepted way. Nonetheless, fracturing is is another highly dangerous technique that inflicts enormous threats to the environment and human population in the exploitation area.

Plans to build the first reactor in Poland

The state-owned energy holding Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE, Polish Energy Group) has been appointed by the Polish government as the strategic investor. The first adopted programme version (early 2009) envisaged that this company would build two first NPPs by 2020 and 2022 respectively. The eventual location for the first one, as well as sources of funding and the reactor type, were to be decided upon between 2011 and 2014. One of the leading candidate sites so far is Żarnowiec, a village in northern Poland, some 60 kilometres Northwest of the regional capital of Gdańsk. At the end of 2009, PGE Energia Jądrowa S.A., a dedicated company within the PGE holding, was set up to „develop nuclear power generation in Poland”.[1][2]

The government is the official author and a proponent of the nuclear revival plans, thus the information and "knowledge" disseminated through various channels (such as for the public education programmes, e.g. at schools of various levels) about the nuclear energy is completely imbalanced. They present only the advantages of nuclear energy. News and opinions presented by the Polish mainstream media are fed in and dominated by the atomists who prevail in delivering the pro-nuclear messages.

There is no official public debate of which the results would condition the decision to implement or not to implement the nuclear power programme. The biased and selective media opinions on the nuclear issues smuggled within the news can hardly be called a public debate. They favour nuclear and dismiss the renewable energy's advantages. They use propaganda tricks like taking exclusively coal into considerations while making their comparisons with other resources as well as using some researches and analysis very selectively.

The Polish government has earmarked PLN 450 million (ca. 110 mio euro) on promoting its nuclear agenda before 2012. According to Poland's energy programme for the period until 2030, nuclear power plants would establish the country's energy security. But the document's own analysis and calculations themselves say the new reactors are supposed to supply between 15 and 20 percent of all future electricity produced in Poland. However, in 2005, the share of electricity in Poland's total energy supply was 14.5 percent, and by 2020 it is projected to grow only to 15.4 percent. This means that the share of nuclear energy in the country's entire energy supply will not exceed three percent, rising only to a mere seven percent in primary energy supply by 2030.

Furthermore, not only will nuclear energy not help Poland overcome its dependency on coal, but it will effectively impede its attempts to develop renewable energy. Experts say that as energy security concerns go, Poland will benefit more if it joins its power grid with those of fellow EU member countries. Combined with energy efficiency measures, gradual modernisation of Poland's national grid, and a dynamic development of renewable energy sources, as well as expansion of power production from gas, this will both ensure Poland its energy security and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Safety is not a tangible issue at this stage except for the usual doubts.[3]

Major negative impacts of the supposed NPP on the region

An NPP located in Zarnowiec would need a water channel to link the lake siding the plant with the Baltic Sea. It would provide enough cooling water for the reactor (because of the prevailing too high temperatures of the lake predicted). But if constructed, the channel would cut and endanger a number of Natura 2000 (EU protected) areas and its habitats.

An NPP in Zarnowiec location would have negative impact, even through its sole presence, on the local, small scale tourism in the whole Pomorze (Pomerania) region. It would be negatively perceived by potential tourists (large part of which are German people), because of the potential risk of contamination and the visual obtrusion. Thus it would deter them from visiting the region and from staying there. The income of the touristic business which is one of the largest contributor to the welfare and convenient jobs in the region would drop significantly. The impact on the rural agricultural lands would be similar.

Other types of negative impact are usually known potential risks related to siting of any NPPs (population's health, terrorism, nature contamination from regular operating, fuel transports and others). Other locations considered (especially Klempicz) would undergo similar negative consequences.

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