Poland revises 'unrealistic' nuclear launch date

02 September 2010

Poland's plan to ready itself for the deployment of nuclear power plants have been put back by two years, with 2022 now the likely date for the start-up of its first reactor.


The new date comes from the government's recently drafted strategy of nuclear power development. The first plant is expected to become operational in 2022, and the second one possibly by 2030, commissioner for nuclear energy Hanna Trojanowska said at a recent press conference.


"The original plans to launch the first plant by 2020 were unrealistic, but the revised deadline of 2022 is much more likely to be met," says Andrzej Strupaczewski of the Institute of Atomic Energy PolAtom, a state-run research centre. "However, time is pressing, and the construction should begin in 2016 at latest."


Next in the government's agenda is the creation of a new atomic energy agency that would take over most tasks from the Ministry of Energy, presently charged with the nuclear portfolio. The new agency could be established in 2012.


Under the government's plans, a consortium led by Polish Energy Group (PGE) power company will build two nuclear plants with a power output of around 3000 MWe each, thus either four reactors of 1500 MWe, or six reactors of 1000 MWe capacity each, said Strupaczewski.


Areva, GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse have each bid separately for the supply of reactors to Poland's nuclear program, and it is thought one of these companies is likely to take a 49% stake in the planned construction consortium. In the meantime, Poland has signed bilateral agreements on nuclear cooperation with France, Japan, the USA and, most recently, South Korea.


"All three bidders offer high-end reactors, and precise technical specifications have to be defined before an order is placed," said Strupaczewski.


Marcin Cieplinski, CEO of PGE's nuclear power subsidiary, told journalists that the estimated cost of the first block could reach $6 billion. The total cost of Poland's first plant could amount to $14 billion.


What remains to be decided is where to locate the first power plant. Out of 28 proposed sites, PGE picked three villages in northern Poland: Zarnowiec, Kopan and Lubiatowo. Zarnowiec may have an edge over the other two locations, as it had been home to Poland's first unfinished nuclear plant project in the 1980s. Popular discontent in the wake of the Chernobyl accident forced the government to eventually scrap the project in 1990. Twenty years later, Zarnowiec is still seen as a promising site for the plant.


"Zarnowiec has a few significant advantages over the two other locations. The necessary site planning and research have already been carried out there, and the local community is rather used to the idea of having a nuclear facility over the fence," argues Strupaczewski.
"Also, Zarnowiec is already home to a pumped storage hydroelectricity plant, a performant way of storing energy that could effectively co-operate with the planned nuclear facility." Nuclear power plants are most economic when run at full power for many months at a stretch. During times of lower electricity demand, nuclear power can be used to pump volumes of water to greater altitude. This potential energy can be used for power generation at times of peak demand.


According to the Strupaczewski, the biggest challenge to be faced by the Polish government is to convince the society of this highly coal-dependent country that time has come to diversify its sources of energy. He believes that meeting and soothing the anxieties of Poles could make this decidedly easier. "The government needs to put emphasis on the security of those who will live nearby the plant, and appropriate legislation should be elaborated as soon as possible," he said.


By Jaroslaw Adamowski
for World Nuclear News