POLAND HAS AFFIRMED IN RECENT weeks its determination to close its power generation gap by building between 6GW and 9GW of new nuclear capacity. However, construction of the first plants will now not start until 2026. The initial plan had been to start construction around 2020 and to have Poland’s first nuclear plant in operation by 2025. Despite the delay, Poland still aims to integrate nuclear generation into its power mix as a long-term, stable source of baseload electricity.

Polish officials have said that the delay was because of a reorganisation in the country’s energy ministry and the fact that the current Polish government is close to the country’s coal industry. However, the Polish president Andrzej Duda confirmed in June, following a visit to the USA, that Poland will proceed with its nuclear construction programme using US reactor technology. Duda added that the two countries will soon start discussing the specific reactor design to be used in Poland.

Michal Kurtyka, the Polish Minister of Climate and COP24 president, said in a Nuclear Energy Agency webinar on the Polish nuclear programme on 15 June that his country plans to build six reactors by 2045, with construction starting as soon as 2026.

“Our traditional resources [coal] are at the end, so our energy transformation is also part of the EU’s Green deal and EU’s COVID-19 revival plan,” Kurtyka said, noting that Poland needs baseload capacity to replace coal-fired power plants that are now reaching the end of their operating lives.

“Our energy transformation will include both new nuclear power and expanding electricity production from renewables”, he said. “This includes the use of offshore wind on the Baltic Sea and local energy systems such as photovoltaic energy.” Poland also has a diversification agenda for its gas supply..

“We have 100 Polish companies which take part in nuclear power projects across the world, which is a good base for building our own nuclear power system,” the climate minister said. Poland already has a scientific research reactor, but not one that produces power.

Poland will need solid “financial foundations” to make a nuclear power programme competitive and “getting the right sources of funding is the key to [the] feasibility” of the new nuclear construction programme, he said. “We have not yet built our own nuclear plants, so we will look at international cooperation to make our nuclear programme materialise.”

“We have planned to introduce nuclear power since the 1980s, but the post-1989 transition was a poor economic climate and Poland did not require a surplus of energy,” Kurtyka said. So public discussion of new nuclear in Poland is a starting as a new dialogue. Conversations about the locations for the new reactors have already has started and there is public approval for new nuclear construction, according to Kurtyka. “The majority of Poles approve of Polish nuclear and see an opportunity in nuclear.”

One of the reasons for this is that the Polish government is undertaking a gradual and consensual transition away from the country’s mostly coal-based electricity production system. The first plant will likely be built at Zarnowiec in northern Poland, where the country started construction of four VVER-440s in the 1980s, before abandoning the project.

Another potential site is at Belchatow in central Poland, currently the site of the world’s largest lignite (‘soft coal’) power plant and a coal mine.

Poland is looking at using HTGR technology

Kurtyka said that Poland is looking at traditional large reactors, but also at small modular reactors (SMRs).

The country is also considering advanced reactors such as high temperature gas cooled reactors (HTGRs) providing heat and power. Such units would be suitable for Poland’s chemical industry. “It makes SMRs competitive and gives the opportunity to achieve scale and produce [reactors in a] series”, Kurtyka said.

William D. Magwood, the director general of the NEA, said during the webinar that nuclear power is a possible source of industrial heat in Poland. “It remains important that Poland has focused on the heat aspect of HTGR technology, as one has to look at overall system costs when considering the cost of nuclear power,” Magwood said.

“Within European agreements and the Paris climate agreement we aim at climate neutrality,” Kurtyka added. On HTGRs, Poland is in contact with the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency. “We have got evidence that this technology is working in Japan and elsewhere” Kurtyka said, noting that Poland has 500 storage systems, which could be used as part of the clean energy transition.

In June, Kurtyka wrote an open letter to the European Commission calling for investment in nuclear energy to be part of the funds provided for green energy transformation (see below). In the letter, Kurtyka reaffirmed Poland’s commitment to both renewables and nuclear technology.

Open letter: Poland’s committed to climate neutrality and nuclear power

Poland remains committed to the pursuit of climate neutrality, which it intends to support by implementing both renewable and nuclear technologies, following the example and experience of other EU member states, Polish Climate Minister Michal Kurtyka, said in an open letter to Kadri Simons, EU commissioner for Energy and EU vice-presidents Frans Timmermans and Valdis Dombrovskis

“Poland remains committed to the pursuit of climate neutrality, which it intends to support through the implementation of both renewable and nuclear technologies, while using the invaluable synergy between them,” Kurtyka wrote.

He emphasised that baseload electricity production in Poland currently depends to a large extent on the burning of fossil fuels, and Polish geographical conditions preclude the development of stable renewable sources, such as hydropower. At the same time, “in the late 1980s, the opportunity to deploy nuclear energy was lost as a result of an arbitrary decision,” he noted.

He estimated that these circumstances, combined with a large population and industry showing increasing energy demand, put Poland at “a different starting point” from the rest of the partners in the EU. He continued: “That is why Poland, modelling on the good example and experience of other member states, intends to develop nuclear power to replace the baseload electricity generation provided by coal, with zero-emission, stable production at affordable costs for Polish citizens and the economy.”

Kurtyka pointed out that, at a time when half the EU countries use or intend to develop nuclear energy as part of their energy transformation, this technology, which provides almost half of the low-emission energy production in the EU, is excluded from the wide financial possibilities offered by the green transformation. This means there is no equal treatment in the energy sector.

“Depriving the nuclear sector of investment opportunities related to green transformation is incompatible with the principle of energy sovereignty of the member states and violates the obligations arising from the Euratom Treaty in promoting the development of the EU nuclear sector,” he noted.

“Not questioning the green transformation as such, but asking a fundamental question about its general direction and principles in technology, I would like to emphasise once again the necessary role that nuclear energy must play in clean energy systems, which is strongly supported by the latest reports published, among others by the IPCC and the International Energy Agency,” he wrote.

“Therefore, we call on the European Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, including the Euratom Treaty, to ensure that the EU’s energy and climate policy is developed in a technologically neutral and evidence-based manner, including work undertaken under the European Green Deal and Sustainable Financing Package.”

Author information: Rumyana Vakarelska, Journalist covering the energy and environmental sectors