On Thursday, one of Poland’s largest state owned companies, KGHM, signed a deal with the US NuScale Power to lay the foundation for the construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant, which, according to media reports, would be up and running by 2029 or 2031 at the latest.
The deal commits to the construction of four small nuclear reactors with the option of up to twelve. Marcin Chludziński, the President of KGHM’s Management Board, said that the construction of the small reactors is a solid declaration and an element of Poland’s energy transformation.
Recently, the US has been luring Central and Eastern European states with the promise of energy independence through nuclear power. According to the US Secretary of State, at the end of this decade low carbon technologies will be a $23 trillion market. In October 2020, the Polish government and US administration signed a thirty year agreement on development and cooperation of developing a civil nuclear energy programme as reported by Euractiv.
KGHM is Poland’s major silver and copper producer. The company employs over 30,000 workers and in 2020 it recorded revenues of 23.6 bn złoty (or €5.1 bn). The company operates mines in Poland, Canada, US and Chile.
Currently, over 70% of the energy in Poland comes from coal and lignite. The country is usually referred to as the ‘biggest polluter’ in Europe. A 2020 Air Quality in Europe report found that air in Poland was more polluted than in any of the other EU member states; even during the lockdown Poland recorded the lowest reduction in air pollution. It is estimated that yearly around 40,000 Poles lose their lives prematurely due to conditions related to poor air quality.
In May, after a serious outage at the Belchatow power plant, which produces 20% of the country’s energy, an emergency import of energy from Sweden, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic was required to fill the gap. The country’s over reliance on fossil fuel energy has lead to hikes in energy bills. A few days ago, the CEO of one of the largest energy providers, Enea, suggested a 40% increase in electricity bills.
During the United Nations General Assembly, the Polish President said that the country is committed to doubling its output from renewables by 2030. That would translate to less than 25% of the country’s energy being produced by renewables, a rather unambitious goal.
As a country, Poland has, one could say, a love-hate relationship with nuclear power. In 1982 the country began to build its first nuclear power plant but later shelved the plans as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. Ultimately, construction was cancelled in 1990.
39 years after Poland began the unsuccessful construction of its first nuclear power plant, it has signed a deal to build one in the next decade. Whether that plan will be fulfilled it’s hard to tell. What is clear though is that Poland’s investment in renewables must increase if the country wants to reach it and EU's carbon neutrality targets; as of now, the country is far from reaching these targets.