The final location for the first Polish nuclear power plant will be announced, this year. If all goes to plan, completion is due by 2020. In giving the green light to this private investment by the French nuclear energy operator Areva into a state controlled company, the Polish government’s main goal was to diversify its energy sources while limiting the country’s CO2 emissions. Indeed with 90% of energy produced in Poland produced from fossil fuels, the country has become one of the biggest polluters of the European Union.
Building a nuclear power plant may be particularly surprising in the context of the 2009 EU Directive (2009/28/EC), which aims to promote green energy. It sets a target of 20% energy in the European Union to be produced from renewable sources by 2020. In parallel to the decision to allow the new nuclear plant, the official Polish energy strategy is nevertheless in line with the Directive’s objectives for Poland, fixing the achievable renewable energy threshold at 15%.
However, not everybody in the country supports renewables. The representative of the Polish National Centre for Nuclear Research, Dr. Andrzej Strupczewski, claims that the investment in renewable energies is not a viable alternative to nuclear energy because of its high costs. Yet, it was doubts about nuclear energy’s profitability and safety that led to the failure of a previous attempt of introducing nuclear energy to Poland in 1990. Plans to build a nuclear plant in Żarnowiec were abandoned four years into its construction; an expensive U-turn that cost 375 million euros.
While the main investor in nuclear energy is a state controlled commercial society, investments in renewables will be largely covered by the Polish tax payers through direct aid to private energy producers. “The state’s subventions to renewable energy sources, according to the proposed law on green energy, will be as high as 76 billion zloty [18 billion euros] until 2020.” He adds that “even after 2020 we will have to pay for renewable energy sources about 10-11 billion zloty [2.4-2.6 billion euros] each year”. He refers particularly to floating wind turbines actively promoted by Polish branch of the international green activist group Greenpeace.
However, this view is not shared by proponents of green energy. “The costs of renewable energy are falling constantly”, says Grzegorz Wisniewski, the director of Polish Renewable Energies Institute in Warsaw. “Experience shows that safety requirements and costs of nuclear energy are growing extremely rapidly” he adds. This trend follows the disaster that stroke nuclear power plant in Fukushima, in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011.
Renewable energy sources have gained in popularity as a means to increase EU countries’ energy self-sufficiency. Three European countries are seriously considering phasing out their nuclear plants. Germany has plans to abandon nuclear energy by 2022, aiming to cover 80% of its energy needs by renewables in 2050. Belgium considers shutting down three of their seven reactors by 2015. And Switzerland announced it would to slowly phase it out between 2019 and 2034.
By contrast, existing European nuclear power such as France and the United Kingdom remain ambiguous about their long term energy policies. They appear to favour a dual approach combining energy sources including nuclear and renewables. Further afield, emerging economies appear to have chosen nuclear energy to support their development. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expects the global nuclear energy output to double by 2030, due to investment in India, China and the Russian Federation.
We witness in Europe “a growing competition for the future energy market [between] France, dominated by the nuclear, and Germany, taking strategic positions on renewable energy sources,” says Soraya Boudia, professor in history and sociology of science at the University of Paris-Est, France. “The outcome is difficult to predict,” Boudia adds, bearing in mind that nuclear energy “is less compatible with the rules of concurrence” strongly encouraged by the European Union. In this context, the Polish decision to build a nuclear power plant appears to be as a strategic move to reinforce the country’s energy security.
Featured image credit: Thorsten Schier via Shutterstock
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