Poland's nuclear plans continue dragging in the mud

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Reorganisations and delays - Poland's nuclear plans continue dragging in the mud

New site choice

According to the original time plans, the construction of Poland's first nuclear power plant should already have started in 2013. It is now clear that the final go-ahead will not be given before 2017, if ever.

The Polish government is still in court with its Polish Nuclear Energy Programme. Greenpeace complains that important input from the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) has not been taken into account, like fair comparison with reasonable alternatives, the effects of a severe accident with substantial emissions of radioactive substances into the environment or the fact that there are no technologies available to deal adequately with high-level radioactive waste. There were furthermore some essential procedural mistakes in the SEA. The state tried to bar admissability of the Greenpeace complaint and won that in first instance. The Cassation Court in Warsaw now has to overrule that, as the Aarhus Convention, European and Polish law give those who participated the right to seek justice in court. As long as the courts have not made a final decision on the Polish Nuclear Energy Programme, it is a shaky basis for policy.

Just before his departure to the EU, former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk forced three other state owned companies, ENEA, Tauron and the copper miner KGHM to take 10% of PGE EJ1. Financing is now foreseen to be organised with a corporate set-up like TVO and Fennovoima in Finland (the Mankala model, whereby no VAT needs to be paid by the first consumers because the owners get electricity to the rate of shares they have in the project "for their own use" and then are responsible for selling it) combined with financial support like the United Kingdom has installed for Hinkley Point C - a deal that these weeks will be put for the European Court by Austria and Luxembourg because of alleged illegal state aid and market distortion.

Nine pro-nuclear EU governments, meanwhile, are trying in the European Council to wriggle support for nuclear into the new European Energy Union.

The recent election victory of president Duda from the arch-conservative PiS party does not change the picture very much, though a PiS victory in autumn might bring some new dynamic in the national debate. It is, nevertheless, expected that Poland will muddle through for some time to come, as too many oligarchs and political pundits smell some kind of profit from the 30+ Billion Euro project.

But not only on the national policy level things remain undecided. Because developments on the ground are going so slow, the leading Polish utility to build the nuclear capacity, PGE Group, heavily reorganised its nuclear daughter PGE EJ1 once more. As a result, a new team cancelled the contract with technical adviser WorleyParsons. WorleyParsons, already under critique because of corruption allegations against its Bulgarian branch that also works in Poland, was carrying out research for site choice on two proposed locations, Lubiatowo in the Choczewo municipality and Zarnowiec, and in preparation for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

But this work had been stalled because PGE EJ1 refuses to make a separate EIA for the involved hydro-geological drilling work in the unique coastal zone of the Lubiatowo Dunes. This area borders two Natura2000 sites and is itself protected under the Habitat and Bird Directives.

Disruption of the relatively high ground water levels could destroy the site once and for all, as well as the adjacent wetlands around the Bezemiena and Lubiatowka streams. An EIA would enable the local NGO "Lubiatowo Dunes" and Greenpeace to have independent experts come with suggestions to prevent damage. Currently, the District Court in Warsaw is looking into the matter. The only way that WorleyParsons could have speeded up procedures would have been by corruption.

As a result of the contract breach, there is now a conflict with WorleyParsons, which does not want to hand over the results from its investigations and PGE EJ1 has to start from zero.

To complicate things even more, realising that Lubiatowo Dunes might have been a bad choice, PGE EJ1 added a new site to the list - also in the Choczewo municipality, around 4 km West of the Lubiatowo Dunes, directly next to the main tourist beach entry. Also this site borders a Natura2000 site.

PGE EJ1 has stepped up its propaganda work in the region. Also this year it organises a series of local meetings where members of the local pro-nuclear group Tak dla Atomu (Yes to Nuclear) loudly proclaim their support for everything PGE is bringing forward. People in the villages feel intimidated and opposition is becoming more silent. It also organises screenings of the utterly boring "Pandora's Promise" documentary of film director Robert Stone, which tries to convince people that we should get away from coal as soon as possible and that instead of using risky light water reactors we should embrace (not available yet) fourth generation nuclear power.

Nevertheless, information activities from Lubiatowo Dunes and Greenpeace continue to get a lot of support, both from permanent as well as seasonal residents. The problem is that they cannot match up with the enormous propaganda machine of PGE, the Ministry of Economy and local mayors. The verbal and in some cases physical aggression of Tak dla Atomu makes people weary of speaking out their opinion openly.

It is foreseen that PGE EJ1 is currently restarting its research for the site choice and might start doing drilling early next year. With or without an EIA, that will depend on the courts.

In the mean time, there continues to be talk of the surprise site Gąski in the Mielno municipality coming back on the list, because there are serious concerns about the sufficiency and security of the Zarnowiec lake for cooling and the sandy underground of the Choczewo locations. Gąski citizens, which voted down the nuclear plans with 96% in a referendum in 2012, continue to make clear, however, that they will not allow that to happen and they actively also continue to support the resistance against the nuclear plans in the other sites as well as on national level.

Jan Haverkamp
Greenpeace campaigner nuclear energy
expert on energy issues in Central Europe