Public support for the construction of Poland's first nuclear power plant has soared to 64%, but an independent Polish think-tank warns that public debate must be refocused away from current concerns about international political crises if that support is to be long lived.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs' (PISM's) findings are based on quantitative research it carried out earlier this year, based on data gathered through face-to-face interviews with a random, representative sample of 1000 Polish citizens. Of the 64% supporting Polish plans for a nuclear power plant, 57% cited its potential for providing increased energy independence for the country as a reason for their support. Economic benefits were less frequently cited: 42% of pro-build respondents cited employment opportunities, while 26% and 24% respectively cited technological progress or the involvement of Polish companies in the project.
The level of support registered by PISM's study is significantly higher than that seen in previous polls conducted by Poland's independent Public Opinion Research Centre (CBOS). The maximum level of support previously recorded was 50% in 2009, according to a CBOS report published in 2013, and a study carried out by the organisation in March of that year found just over half of the Polish population - 52% - was opposed to the construction of nuclear power plants in the country.
According to PISM, the current political crisis in Ukraine is the most likely reason behind the apparent Polish surge in nuclear popularity, with fears over the potential threats to Polish security turning around an ongoing decline in public support since the Fukushima accident of 2011. Although Polish insecurities over Russia's actions in the Crimean peninsula peaked in March 2014, "even now more than half the Polish population still believes that the persisting crisis in Ukraine poses a threat to Poland's security," PISM states.
The PISM report describes the increasing recognition of the importance of energy independence as "understandable" given the country's "over-reliance on Russian energy resources, i.e., oil and gas." Relatively low support for the development of shale gas extraction and the development of coal-based technologies as potential options to ensure energy security "may signify that Poles are persuaded that regardless of Warsaw's diversification efforts, continued reliance on fossil fuels will inevitably perpetuate energy dependence on Moscow," it notes. Some 63% of those in favour of the nuclear option said they would support investment in nuclear capacity for Poland even if the country could meet its energy demand by buying low-priced power from its neighbours.
However, PISM warns, the high level of public support it has recorded, shaped as it is by current international events, cannot be guaranteed long-term. It calls for a "necessary refocusing" of public debate towards broader issues relating to the economic aspects of nuclear energy as a means to "provide roots to the existing opinions and make them more stable and less context-dependent."
The study found that the most prominent group among those supporting the construction of a nuclear plant was young, highly-educated individuals with higher incomes living in the largest cities. The study also found a clear regional pattern, with the highest support for nuclear coming from those in the east of the country.
Poland's energy policy plans include operating nuclear power plants from about 2025 as it moves away from its current heavy dependence on coal and imported gas. Utility Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE) plans to install around 3000 MWe of nuclear capacity at one of three potential sites, with the first unit coming online by 2025.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News