Poland Plans Nuclear Future, Despite Public Wariness

By John Daly:

Poland, currently hosting a global conference on climate change, remains steadfastly wedded to fossil fuels.

Poland is the second largest coal producer in Europe, exceeded only by Germany. In 2012 Poland produced 158 million tons of coal, roughly 20 percent of Europe’s total coal production and consumes almost all of the coal it produces, while exporting small quantities. Poland produces very small quantities of crude oil and natural gas and accordingly is a net oil and natural gas importer. The Russian Federation provides the majority of Poland’s crude oil through the Druzhba pipeline, which has a capacity of 1 million barrels per day, along with Russian natural gas through the Yamal pipeline, with a capacity of 974 billion cubic feet.

Seeking alternatives, Poland has investigated its shale natural gas and oil resources, but reserve estimates have recently been revised downward following unsatisfactory exploration results, according to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration.

In contrast, the EIA notes in “Country Analysis Brief Overview,” of the Russian Federation’s hydrocarbons, “Russia holds the world’s largest natural gas reserves, the second-largest coal reserves, and the ninth-largest crude oil reserves.” In 2011 Russia was the largest producer of crude oil in 2011, averaging about 9.8 mbd. Russia’s natural gas reserves are even more impressive, with the EIA noting, “Russia holds the largest natural gas reserves in the world, and is the largest producer and exporter of dry natural gas.”

It is not that Warsaw has not tried to develop alternatives, but as for shale gas, in May both Canada’s Talisman Energy and U.S. Marathon announced that they were abandoning their Polish operations, with Marathon noting that the company’s decision was based on “unsuccessful attempts to find commercial levels of hydrocarbons.”

…which leaves Warsaw considering nuclear power.

Not all Polish media are opposed to nuclear expansion; in an article entitled “Nuclear power will increase our capacity,” Poland’s Puls Biznesu web portal quoted Vladimir Strupi?ski from the Institute of Electronic Materials Technology (ITME) in Warsaw as observing that nuclear power plants are the cheapest source of energy with low CO2 emissions, noting that in Germany in 2012 consumers paid $255 for 1 megawatt hour for electricity from offshore wind farms and $168-229 per 1 MWh were while in France, nuclear energy fee for the same period amounted to $56 per 1 MWh. Strupi?ski added that the latest generation of reactors in the event of failure does not pose a threat to people living within 1.8 miles of a NPP.

Accordingly then, for better or worse, the Polish Ministry of Economy intends to proceed with its Polish Nuclear Power Program (PPEJ) project.

One of the NPPs could be built in Zarnowiec, roughly  50 miles west of Danzig, already housing the ruins of a huge nuclear power plant whose construction was stopped in 1990 through a popular referendum. Not surprisingly, the residents of Zarnowiec remain staunchly anti-nuclear.

But, as a member of the European Union, Poland’s fellow members are weighing in on Warsaw’s nuclear ambitions.

Rebecca Harms, president of the Greens in the European Parliament has bluntly spoken out against Poland’s nuclear ambitions, stated, I’m willing to bet that the NPPs will not be built… The Polish nuclear expansion plans are fiction. Apart from the experience of the Poles after the (1986) Chernobyl disaster…there would be protests.”

For Poland then, a tough call.

Build NPPs to satisfy rising electricity demand but alienate EU fellow members, further develop coal thermal-fired plants (and alienate EU fellow members), or focus on renewables, even though major foreign hydraulic fracturing natural gas international investors are leaving?
Short-term solution – import more natural gas from the Russian Federation and add to the government’s import bill.

Anyway you look at it, a tough call.

This piece is cross-posted from OilPrice.com with permission.