Poland has extensive plans to develop nuclear power. However, there are a number of barriers standing in its way. It is still an open question as to whether raison d'état is going to prevail in the nuclear considerations or whether – as has been the case so far – it will all end up as a game of appearances.

On 30 June 2011, I was sitting with several editors-in-chief on the roof of the Russian embassy on Unter den Linden avenue in Berlin. Moments earlier, the German Bundestag had passed the Nuclear Phase-out Act in a roll-call vote, winning 513 out of 600 votes. The ambassador looked at the Reichstag and raised his glass of vodka, refilled before each service. In a friendly voice he said: ‘Here's to the German Government! It is a good day for Russian energy policy, it is a good day for Russia”, reminisced Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, in a text that Onet.pl reprinted after the German publication Die Welt on 23 February 2022, the day before Russia's aggression against Ukraine.
Döpfner went on to admit: “It is now clear that the Russian ambassador was right. Influenced by the emotions after the Fukushima disaster, Germany made an epically wrong decision that led to dependence on Russian energy and Russian politics”. The result was Nord Stream 2 and a profound alienation of America from Germany and Europe. Vladimir Putin has been strengthened to a historically incomparable extent.
In a wave of Russian-inspired scepticism about nuclear energy, nuclear infrastructure was neglected in a number of countries, including France and Sweden. Today, both countries are facing unprecedented energy crises.

Will Things Work out This Time?

However, the atmosphere around nuclear power changed after the Russian attack on Ukraine. Last year, the European Union included nuclear power, alongside gas, in its taxonomy. This means facilitation of raising capital for such investments. And Germany has delayed the shutdown of its last nuclear power plants at the end of 2022, albeit only until spring.
Last year, Poland also fleshed out its plans for investments in nuclear power. In the autumn, Westinghouse (WEC) was selected as the technology supplier for the first of two power plants planned by the government.
According to the company responsible for the investment, Polskie Elektrownie Jądrowe (PEJ), a contract for the design of the power plant, which will be built in Pomerania, is planned to be signed by PEJ and WEC in 2023.
The location of the second power plant ‒ envisaged in the government's programme ‒ is expected to be known this year. According to the government's declarations, the technology supplier may be either Westinghouse, France's EDF or Korea's KHNP. “In view of the need for rapid decarbonisation of the Polish energy mix, it would be advisable to accelerate the implementation of the Polish Nuclear Power Programme (PPEJ) by building the power plant in the second location sooner. EDF is ready to support the Polish authorities in this endeavour”, Thierry Deschaux, director general of EDF's representation in Poland, tells DGP.
In parallel with the selection of Westinghouse, a third, business-based nuclear project was initiated. It brings together Polska Grupa Energetyczna, a company with majority stake held by the State Treasury, with a private Pątnów Adamów Konin Power Plant Complex (ZE PAK), controlled by one of the richest Poles, Zygmunt Solorz. This power plant is to be built by KHNP.
According to current plans, three large nuclear power plants plus so-called SMRs are to be built in Poland ‒ PKN Orlen, a concern partially owned by the State Treasury, has plans in this regard, as do some others.
However, a number of challenges stand in the way of developing nuclear power in Poland. Key problems include: lack of a unified position on the nuclear issue within the broader ruling camp (including the State Treasury companies); the uncertain consensus on the issue among the Polish political class, which may be important in view of a possible victory of the opposition in the parliamentary elections; aversion to nuclear power on the part of both the RES industry and the ‒ still influential in Poland ‒ coal lobby; scepticism on the part of a large part of non-governmental organisations and think tanks; opposition from Germany and Austria; and the actions of Russia, which all continue to influence the debate both in Poland and in Europe, to ensure that our country remains a kind of a living-history museum in terms of energy. After all, almost every country bordering Poland has nuclear power plants.
“Poland may, and should, build up to six nuclear power plants to ensure energy security and independence”, believes Marcin Piątkowski, economist and professor at Kozminski University, and author of Europe's Growth Champion, a book describing the success of the Polish economy after 1989.
However, as he points out in an interview with the DGP, it is crucial to learn from the experience of countries where these investments have dragged on beyond reason and, as a result, costs have exceeded the original assumptions many times over. “We cannot afford to reproduce such developments. Therefore, even now, a broad debate should be initiated with the participation of a group of experts in infrastructure investments, among others, which would minimise these risks”, suggests Marcin Piątkowski.

Is Europe Reconciling Itself With Nuclear Power?

Paweł Gajda of the AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków tells DGP that “it is indeed reconciling, but the question to ask is whether the actual reconciliation is going to happen. We are seeing a change in the debate, but whether and how this will translate into actual policy, only the future will tell”, he explains.
He points out that there are still no new investments in the pipeline. One was even cancelled ‒ the Hanhikivi power plant in Finland, which was to be built by Rosatom. “We have had several construction projects in the works for some time now. The one closest to launch is the Sizewell C power station in the UK, where important financing decisions have been made. We are seeing an upturn in the preparation of new investments ‒ there is a tender in the Czech Republic, and preparations for the expansion of the Cernavoda power plant in Romania”, lists Paweł Gajda.
“More or less explicit announcements”, he adds, “are being heard in France, the Netherlands and Sweden. But it is too early to assess their chances for implementation”.
In turn, Maciej Lipka from the National Centre for Nuclear Research adds that two nuclear units will soon be commissioned in Slovakia. In addition, two EPR units are under construction at Hinkley Point C. “Some of the less successful investments include those of the EPR: Flamanville 3 and Olkiluoto 3. The former is experiencing delays again, the latter has unresolved problems with feedwater pumps, and it is difficult to say when it might start scheduled operation”, he notes.
As he points out, one unknown is the situation of the nuclear industry in France. “The unplanned overhauls of the newest units will probably finally come to an end, but the country has a long way to go to reverse the policy of previous presidents, moving away from nuclear; whether President Macron's announcements regarding the construction of new units will come true, time will tell”, says Maciej Lipka.
“It is not without reason that there is talk of a so-called ‘nuclear renaissance’”, argues PEJ. They add that when talking about the future, it is worthwhile to take note of the EC's approach in addition to the perspectives of the Member States. In PEJ's view, the speech by Kadri Simson, EU Commissioner for Energy, at the Nuclear Energy Forum conference in Prague on 11 November 2022 is significant. “The content of this speech signals that the ongoing energy crisis represents a turning point in the EC's discourse around nuclear energy. Commissioner Simson stressed that nuclear energy is not a problem but a solution, moreover, not only in the short-term but also in the long term, as evidenced by its projected share of 15‒16 percent in the EU energy mix in 2050. Commissioner Simson stressed that nuclear energy must be included in the decarbonisation debate”, PEJ reports.
On the other hand, as Maciej Lipka notes, nuclear power is not included in REPowerEU, and support for it is not treated in the same way as support for other clean energy sources.
Mirosław Kowalik, President of Westinghouse Poland, on the other hand, is optimistic in this regard. “Observing the aspirations of the leaders of European countries, both within and without the EU, to achieve climate neutrality, we can say with certainty that Europe is opening up to nuclear power again”, he opines.
“Our current focus is on the Central and Eastern European market. At the same time, we notice that Western European countries are increasingly interested in the rapid development of nuclear power in two areas, specifically: extending the life of existing power plants, e.g. in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium or Sweden; and starting preparatory and conceptual work for the construction of new ones, in countries such as France, the Netherlands and the UK”, Kowalik says.
Thierry Deschaux from EDF in Poland points out that besides the bid to build EPR reactors submitted to the Polish authorities in October 2022, which it is maintaining, EDF is also involved in a tender in the Czech Republic, where it submitted a bid at the end of November. “Other European countries are also preparing to build nuclear power plants. EDF is interested in participating in projects in other European countries as well”, he adds.
“In recent years, Europe has seen gas playing an increasingly important role in the energy sector, and also in relation to nuclear power. The current energy crisis has revealed that it was not the best solution. The question of energy independence has become a priority. Nuclear power can help here; examples of increased interest in the nuclear power industry include the Netherlands, which has decided to accelerate its programme to build new nuclear reactors, and Sweden, whose government has announced investments in nuclear power”, says the French company representative.
Meanwhile, In-Sik Park, executive vice-president in charge of KHNP's foreign projects division, tells DGP that KHNP is also interested in the Czech nuclear power plant project.
“We have been involved in a nuclear power plant project in Romania, including the supply of a tritium removal facility (TRF) and large-scale refurbishment of the plant”, he adds.
He believes that European countries are turning towards nuclear energy and see it as a way to ensure energy security. In-Sik Park emphasises that his country, being deprived of natural resources due to its geographical location, has chosen to develop nuclear power, thereby ensuring its energy security and independence.

Does Poland Know What It Wants?

As for the success of nuclear investments in Poland, according to Maciej Lipka “it seems that the biggest barrier in the way of the nuclear programme is the lack of a consistent strategy for its implementation”.
It may therefore turn out that Polish plans in this area might end in a fiasco not because of resistance from Germany or Austria at all, but rather because we'd trip over our own feet.
“The immediate urgency is to treat this project seriously. We are in a situation where the technology supplier had been selected, but the contract is only now being negotiated ‒ an odd sequence. At the same time, the contractor is to be selected separately, after a tendering process ‒ and this is the best way to ensure delays. So it turns out that between the government and the investor company, no consistent concept for implementation of this project is emerging”, says Maciej Lipka.
He is echoed by dr Paweł Gajda from the AGH University of Science and Technology: “The biggest barrier is the chaos we observe in the nuclear programme. We even see mutually exclusive ideas being proposed by decision-makers”.

Partner, Head of Energy, Infrastructure & Environment Practices GroupWojciech Wrochna of Kochański & Partners tells DGP, nuclear power, especially the large-scale type ‒ the so-called 'big reactors' ‒ due to its technological sophistication, scale of investment and associated risks, is among the project types that are not developed without state participation.

“In other words ‒ there are no 'private' projects in nuclear energy, as the government is trying to position the one implemented by PGE, ZE PAK and KHNP, next to the government project implemented with Westinghouse”, he explains.
“Besides that”, he adds, “we have projects involving the so-called SMRs, i.e. small reactors, which, however, are not small investments at all, seeing as, for example, the BWRX reactor has 300 MW of power. These projects are also carried out with the participation of state-owned entities, such as PKN Orlen or KGHM (project with NuScale). This, on one hand, confirms the claim that these projects cannot be implemented without state participation, but on the other hand, it raises the key question: what does Polish government want?” wonders the lawyer.
He believes it is not possible to deliver all these investments. “From the perspective of foreign investors, this only shows that we do not know what we want, and credibility is diminishing, which is deadly for this type of project. Even today, international nuclear forum discussions see more questions than answers when it comes to Polish nuclear projects”, says Wojciech Wrochna.
In his opinion, as of today, the project implemented by PEJ (with Westinghouse technology) is the only one that can be brought to the investment decision stage relatively quickly.
As political scientist and historian Professor Antoni Dudek concludes in an interview with DGP, building a nuclear power plant in Poland is essential for our energy security. “Unfortunately, this issue is clear evidence of the indolence of our state and our political class. The two main parties, Law and Justice and Civic Platform, are not opposed to this investment, in fact they officially support it, but nothing follows ‒ the power plant is still as non-existent as it was before. And even today, we can easily observe the state of the energy infrastructure in our country. This is because Polish politicians are only interested in the short-term perspective ‒ just until the next elections. And the development of nuclear energy is a programme spanning decades”, he argues.
In his opinion, the Law and Justice party's current actions and announcements in this area are not particularly convincing. “The idea that the first bloc would be ready by 2033 is a pipe dream. It is more likely to be ready at the turn of the 2030s and 2040s, provided this time our political class has sufficient determination”, he believes.
For the time being, the question whether the Polish political class would be able to stand up to the challenge of nuclear energy development and actually establish a consensus around this issue, or whether ‒ as it has been the case so far ‒ it would end up as just a game of appearances, remains open. ©℗
Poland may, and should, build up to six nuclear power plants to ensure energy security and independence
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