Polish oil & gas company PKN Orlen on 29 June signed a cooperation agreement with private chemicals company Synthos, Orlen CEO Daniel Obajtek told a news conference. "We have signed a framework agreement...regarding the implementation of zero-emission technology, nuclear technology, small and micro-nuclear reactors," he said, adding that companies should agree on details within three months. Poland, which is heavily dependent on coal for power generation, plans to increase its share of emissions-free nuclear and renewable energy generation.
Obajtek said that, in the coming months, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) will be established called Orlen Synthos Green Energy, which will undertake implementation of the technology. "As Orlen we will invest in SMR technology but that in no way collides with the plans of the Polish government to build large nuclear reactors," he noted. Obajtek, estimated that the first SMR reactor could be built in Poland within 7-10 years.
"SMRs are easier to build, zero-emission, have a low exploitation cost and can be an addition to the Polish energy system… their construction is cheap and fast, which guarantees a rapid rate of return," he said.
The president of Synthos, Zbigniew Warmuz, told journalists that, in his opinion, the BWRX-300 reactor could be built "somewhere abroad” by 2027-2028. "If it appears and starts working, it will be checked, I think that 2030-2031 is realistic for Poland," he added.
Less than two years ago, Synthos signed a cooperation agreement with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) on the possibility of building the BWRX-300 reactor in Poland.
In early 2020, GEH started the licensing process in the USA, and in October 2020, Synthos Green Energy the Polish nuclear supervision authority (PAA) for help in determining the content of the application for the issuance of the so-called overall opinion. PAA said this could be considered an initial stage of the regulatory process.
Warmuz noted that Poland still needs regulations that would allow entities such as Orlen and Synthos to build a low-power nuclear power plant. “Today there are simply no such regulations, a nuclear power plant can only be built by the state, and not by a private entity. This has to change,” he said, adding that it takes several years to change the regulations.
He noted that Synthos sees SMRs primarily for industrial use, plus the possible production of hydrogen. Such reactors will not be the primary, but a supplementary source of energy, he emphasised.
"We have certainly made progress in our talks with GEH since the letter of intent was signed," he added.
The two companies also plan to work together in offshore wind energy projects. Synthos had earlier announced the independent introduction of offshore projects but now Synthos CEO Zbigniew Warmuz wants to cooperate with Orlen on offshore projects. He said the intention is to create another SPV for the offshore wind farms in which Orlen will hold 51% and Synthos 49%.
The development of SMR technology is an opportunity to ensure zero-emission energy, but also to strengthen the Polish economy and national energy security, commented Obajtek. At PKN Orlen, the direction of change is set by the Orlen2030 strategy, which puts a strong emphasis on increasing energy efficiency and the development of zero- and low-emission energy sources, he added. “We are open to innovative solutions that will build the value of the Orlen Group in the coming years and its position as a leader in energy transformation in Central Europe.”
Warmuz said that, thanks to the agreement between Orlen and Synthos, Poland has an opportunity to acquire modern zero-emission nuclear technologies. “Their implementation is extremely important for both companies and the entire Polish industry, facing the challenges posed by the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining the competitiveness of Polish enterprises on the European and global market.”