American-Korean duo set to share atomic pie in Poland – DW – 10/28/2022

Poland should choose the American engineering company Westinghouse Electric to build its first nuclear power plant and finance the project up to 49%. State-owned Korea Hydro Nuclear Power (KHNP) may also be involved in a separate, parallel private nuclear project, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin said on October 26.

Warsaw also spoke with the French state-owned company EdF, which built and operates the country’s nuclear power plants.

After years of suspended plans to build civilian nuclear capacity in Poland from scratch, the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, dwindling gas supplies from Russia and the lack of immediate renewable substitutes have brought the issue back to the fore. the political agenda.

The government is expected to announce who will build the first factory and where during its session in early November.

Poland plans to build four to six nuclear reactors by the mid-2040s. The planned facilities could satisfy between 25% and 36% of annual domestic energy demand.

Nuclear power is a key part of Poland’s plan to reduce the large share of coal and lignite in electricity generation. Its electricity network is one of the most carbon-intensive in Europe.

A special-purpose vehicle called the EJ1 set up by Poland’s largest energy group Polska Grupa Energetyczna is leading the siting and development plans. In 2021, the functions of EJ1 were transferred to a new public entity, Polskie Elektrownie Jadrowe (PEJ).

Construction work on the reactors – each with a capacity of 1 to 1.5 gigawatts (GW) – is scheduled to begin in 2026, with the first reactor expected to be completed by 2030. All six will be connected to the grid. by 2040 with total capacity of 6-9 GW.

Last December, PEJ announced its preferred location for the first commercial plant as the Baltic Sea coastal town of Choczewo near Gdynia at a site called Lubiatowo-Kopalino.

Remains of the nuclear power plant in Zarnowiec, Poland
Remains of the Zarnowiec nuclear power plant, whose construction was stopped in 1990 due to protests and a lack of fundsImage: Roman Jocher/dpa/picture alliance

Is the US offer the likely winner?

Some believe it is a foregone conclusion that Westinghouse Electric will win the tender, after a recent meeting of senior Polish government officials with US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm reportedly settled issues related to the deals compensation in favor of Poland.

Last July, Westinghouse began so-called preliminary engineering and design work under a grant from the US Trade and Development Agency to continue Poland’s nuclear power program.

The price is also essential. The Korean KHNP has proposed to build six 8.4 GW reactors for 26.7 billion dollars (26 billion euros). The US offer for six 6.7 GW reactors is $31.3 billion. EDF’s bid would be the most expensive – depending on the variant, it wants $33 billion to $48.5 billion for four to six reactors, with a total capacity of 6.6 to 9.9 GW, according to Polish media .

In a change of policy, and clearly intended to allay doubts on the Polish side, Elias Gedeon, the project’s marketing manager at Westinghouse, told the newspaper. Rzeczpospolita This funding includes participation from US state-owned export lender, EXIM Bank, and equity from Westinghouse and its partner Bechtel.

Greenpeace nuclear energy expert Jan Haverkamp, ​​however, has doubts about Westinghouse’s offer. “There are questions about whether Westinghouse will be able to properly meet its offer. Westinghouse is in a precarious financial position,” he told DW.

Toshiba’s Westinghouse nuclear unit files for bankruptcy

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Reduce dependence on coal

PGE and Poland’s largest private energy group, ZE PAK, plan to sign a letter of intent with Korea’s KHNP to build another private nuclear power plant with Korean APR 1400 reactors. The signing of a letter of intent is scheduled for October 31. The Koreans would have promised to transfer the technology, which the Americans would have been careful to do.

Poland has moved closer to ending coal dependence after the government, the country’s largest mining company and trade unions agreed to phase out all coal mines by 2049. As part of the plan , the thermal power plant in Patnow, in central Poland, is scheduled to close at the end of 2024. .

Zygmunt Solorz, owner of ZE PAK and Poland’s richest man, reportedly pressured the government to cooperate with the KHNP.

Pawel Gajda of the Academy of Mines in Krakow thinks that choosing two different nuclear technologies would have its advantages. “This would be a better solution from the point of view of reliability and therefore energy security and would reduce the risk of a situation where, following a fault, it is necessary to temporarily stop many power units at time,” he said. Polish website WNP.PL.

Polish experts also downplayed the significance of any European Commission opposition to the US bid selection, as it would mean a company from outside the bloc would win a major energy tender.

A Warsaw-based energy analyst, who preferred to remain anonymous due to company policy, said he would expect “some kind of ‘hallelujah'” from Brussels for him to there is a “suitable replacement for all coal-fired generation in Poland.”

The bank’s analyst also brushed aside fears that Germany might oppose the construction of a nuclear power plant in its vicinity. “Both alleged locations are far from the German border. I don’t think there will be a negative reaction. The Czechs and Belgians are keeping their nuclear power plants closer to the German border.”

Anti-nuclear protesters in Germany waving a flag with the slogan
Environmental activists, especially in Germany, likely to speak out against Warsaw plansImage: Tim Brakemeier/dpa/picture alliance

Another false dawn?

Wladyslaw Mielczarski, a professor at the Technical University of Lodz, sees the Polish government’s nuclear plans as a distraction from current energy problems.

“Most experts see the nuclear power talks as a pre-election campaign and a distraction from public attention from current energy supply problems and a lack of coal delivery for domestic users,” he said. he told DW.

Warsaw banking analyst DW, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is more optimistic. “Poland’s current nuclear plans are very realistic. There is no comparable alternative in production size in the medium and long term. Poland has a gap in its long-term energy mix and nuclear power plants are seen as the right technology to fill it,” he said. said.

This long-term gap has arisen because renewable energy sources are still underdeveloped in Poland and the government has been lukewarm on policies to advance wind or photovoltaic energy.

Greenpeace’s Haverkamp is far from convinced by the nuclear option, saying Poland’s ambitions rest on several unrealistic expectations. “The question of costs, piled on unrealistic expectations on financing issues, based on unrealistic expectations on market developments, ultimately results in an unfundable project.”

Haverkamp even assumes that the project was dear to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and the opposition Civic Platform (PO) “because it funds enough friends and relations in the field of consulting and regional governance/ local”.

“But at some point it will hit a wall,” he said, and that there is “less than 1% chance that nuclear power plants in Poland will be added to the grid before 2050.”

Edited by: Uwe Hessler

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