This story is part of an ongoing Forum on Energy series on nuclear energy in emerging markets across the globe. See more entries here.
Poland has a tumultuous political history, at times consolidated into an independent state, repeatedly subsumed under various governments and subjected to waves of economic distress. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it began to transition to a democratic state in 1989. Today, the country makes almost 90 percent of its electricity out of locally sourced coal lignate. The country, which ranks repeatedly as one of the most-polluted countries in Europe, is examining ways to convert to cleaner energies.
There are no operating civil nuclear energy plants, but for several decades Poland has contemplated converting to nuclear. At present it is in the early stages of planning two nuclear plants, but there are significant obstacles to be addressed. There is one research reactor in operation.
Poland’s per capita electricity consumption is one of the lowest in Europe and is expected to rise due to economic growth and climate warming. By 2030, demand is expected to reach 161.4 TWh — up 36 percent from the level of 119.1 TWh in 2010. This will require a 33 percent growth in generating capacity, from 33.5 GW to 44.5 GW.
Poland’s political history, even over the last 50 years, has been tumultuous. The unpredictable political swings kept plans for many large-scale, expensive projects — such as nuclear power plants — from developing. In the 1970s and early 80s, when it was as a Soviet satellite state, Poland planned its first nuclear power plant, in Zarnowiec, in the North. According to Nuclear Engineering International Magazine, it was to be a 4 x 440 MW generating station with Soviet-designed VVER-440 units. The second plant, in Warta-Klempicz, was planned as a four-unit station with 1000MWe VVERs. From 1982 to 1990, Zarnowiec design and construction proceeded. But the fall of the Soviet Union, followed by the changed priorities of a newly elected democratic government, led to the project’s cancellation.
Reportedly, every Polish government since 2000 has considered a return to nuclear energy projects, but the plans have not been solidified.
The Polish cabinet decided early in 2005 that for energy diversification, and to reduce CO2 and sulfur emissions, the country should immediately introduce nuclear power so that an initial plant might be operating soon after 2020. There are plans for at least two plants in Poland — or at least 4.6 GWe out of a predicted 52 GWe total capacity — to provide 15 percent of power, with coal’s share falling to 60 percent by 2030. In 2013, the plan was updated to reflect a three-year delay.
According to Reuters, Poland is at an energy crossroads: It needs to build new power plants to replace the ones that are aging and to cope with future demand. Poland is heavily reliant on coal and imports of Russian natural gas. It attempted to diversify its domestic energy production to include shale gas as well as nuclear, but the shale operations are moving ahead too slowly. According to The Economist, at the present speed it would take 12 years to drill as few as 200 wells. With the jury still out on the real commercial value of Polish shale gas, it appears that the government has decided to hedge its bets by giving the nuclear-power program the green light. Reuters is more pessimistic, saying Poland’s high hopes to become a net exporter of shale were dashed when net estimates of shale gas reserves were cut by more than 90 percent.
One reason for Poland’s interest in nuclear is to reduce rampant air pollution. Another is that the EU carbon credit trading regime is adjusting the number of free emissions permits. According to Nuclear Engineering International, the Polish power sector emits 150 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Until 2013, 90 percent of this was covered by free emissions permits granted to Poland by the European Union. In 2013 EU Emissions Trading System changed to phase three of its program, in which the proportion of free emissions allowances was reduced to 70 percent and the rest of the requirement had to be purchased on the free market. By 2020, Poland will not have any free carbon emissions allowances. While allowances are currently cheap, their price is expected to rise to €25 per ton of CO2 in 2025 and €30 per ton in 2030. That means the current energy mix would cost Poland €5.8 billion for carbon in 2030. However, the Polish government wants to change the energy mix. It predicts that in 2030 coal generation will be reduced to 53 percent and nuclear generation will meet 19 percent of power demand.
Key Players in Poland’s 2009 Energy Plan
The program defines four “actors” responsible for its implementation and oversight over strategy, regulation, finances and waste storage.
The Ministry of Economy, through the Commissioner for Nuclear Power and Nuclear Energy Department, will define the strategy and implementation of the civil nuclear program. This includes monitoring the uranium market and nuclear technologies development worldwide.
The President of the National Atomic Agency (PAA) is the nuclear regulator responsible for overseeing the use of nuclear materials, sources of ionizing radiation, dose monitoring and radiation protection training, as well as licensing nuclear power plants to be built, commissioned, operated and finally decommissioned. The PAA President reports to the Minister of Environment.
The state-owned utility Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE) is building a consortium with foreign investors that can bring finance from their export credit agencies. PGE will choose the potential strategic investors once the nuclear technology has been decided upon. PGE has set up a limited liability company called PGE Energia Jadrowa SA (PGE EJ) to represent the Polish side of the consortium. PGE intends to retain 70 percent of the shares in PGE SA. It will sell 10 percent of the shares to each of three other companies: Utilities Tauron Polska Energia and Enea, and mining company KGHM Polska Miedz. The deal is subject to agreement by Poland’s Competition Bureau.
The ZUOP State Enterprise for Neutralization of Nuclear Waste has been responsible for safe management of radioactive waste for many decades, and since 2012 has reported to the Minister of Economy. The strategic government program related to the treatment of nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel in Poland remained active. In 1997 and 1998 it identified 44 potential rock structures in Poland that would be suitable for the construction of a deep geological repository. The country’s only waste storage site, in Rózan, will be completely filled by 2024. The ZUOP enterprise will be responsible for constructing and operating a new low- and medium-activity waste storage site that will cover the needs of future nuclear power stations. The site of that facility will be selected by 2016.
Eventually, storage of spent nuclear fuel will be required. On August 27, 2009, a task force was established to suggest strategies for handling nuclear waste. The task force proposed that Polish nuclear plants use an open (once-through) fuel cycle without reprocessing. To that end, the Polish Underground Research Laboratory (PURL) will be established to develop a long-term storage site for high-activity waste, including spent fuel. However, the task force said that in the more distant future the fuel cycle may be modified to include secondary use and further neutralization of spent fuel.
Looking to the Future
According to World Nuclear News, the schedule calls for the location and reactor technology for the first nuclear power plant to be selected by the end of 2016. By the end of 2018, all required approvals for the plant’s construction should be obtained. The first unit is set to start up by the end of 2024, with the second unit starting up by the end of 2030. Completion of a second nuclear power plant is scheduled for 2035.
France, GE Hitachi, Westinghouse and KEPCO have all expressed an interest in working on the project.