The implementation of nuclear energy is an investment in the Polish engineering know-how and a knowledge-based economy – says Krzysztof TCHÓRZEWSKI. This article initially was published by our partner, Wszystko Co Najwazniejsze, on October 30. 2018.
In 1990, 98% of electricity in Poland was generated by coal-fired power plants. 27 years on, the share has decreased to 80%. The climate policy of the European Union and the winter package compel further decrease of the percentage of coal in the energy mix amid the continuously growing demand for electricity. Against this background, we must answer the strategic question: What source of energy can provide us with a stable supply of electricity no matter the weather conditions and in keeping with the foundations of our energy security?
Symbiosis with coal
Poland’s membership of the European Union and the global approach to climate protection have a natural influence on Polish coal-based energy generation. The winter package, which limits investing in high-emission energy sources due to our aging coal-fired power plants, reduces the room for maneuver in choosing our energy strategy. In order to keep the coal-fired power plants, underpinning our energy security, in the energy production system, we must introduce a new energy source that will allow to reduce the average CO2 pollution caused in the course of generation. Such a source that can be incorporated into our energy system without creating any emission-related costs is nuclear energy. The atom can rescue the domestic coal industry and help maintain tens of thousands of jobs in mining at the same time. This is essential for preserving our energy independence.
When the wind does not blow
Renewable energy sources (RES), like solar radiation or wind, are as emission-free as nuclear power. However, electricity production in wind or solar power plants depends on the weather.
During this summer’s heat wave in Poland, demand for electricity hit records. Extreme temperatures created a threat to security of local energy supply. Unfortunately, there was no wind, so the installed capacity in wind farms could not be used to remedy the situation. In July, wind farms provided a mere 4% of the energy consumed, and for many days the share was at the zero level. All of the installed wind power capacity was used on average in only 14%. At peak times, we put to work everything that was possible, and even so we had to resort to large imports.
Renewables cannot be stored on a large scale. They must be used when produced. This means that in order for renewable sources to be able to supply electricity in a stable manner, additional generation capacities should be installed as a reserve in case the weather conditions change. Gas-fired power plants play a crucial role here, which is why we see such opportunities in the Baltic Pipe project, i.e., a new gas supply corridor for our region. However, we must remember that a gas power plant with a capacity of 1,000 MW needs every year more than a billion cubic metres of gas, a commodity that we buy in 75% abroad at varied and periodically high prices. A gas power plant is cheaper to build, but its output is much more expensive than a nuclear one. Moreover, it is more vulnerable to external risks. Nuclear fuel can be stored for over 10 years, since one nuclear unit needs only two fuel trucks a year. By contrast, one coal unit requires about 200 coal wagons daily, and natural gas must be combusted nonstop.
The renaissance of the atom
There are 23 energy reactors in the radius of 300 km from Poland, including 14 in the Visegrad Group alone. Poland is the only V4 country that does not have this kind of energy. Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are expanding their production capacity in this area. The atom’s renaissance is well on its way. There are 455 nuclear units worldwide, and 55 more are under construction. In the last couple of months, first reactors of the third/third+ generation were commissioned, with the rapidly developing Asian countries leading the charge. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), it will be impossible to achieve any climate goals without further development of nuclear energy.
The odds of a major accident in the latest reactor of the third/third+ generation are less than 1:400,000, 000, while the risk of a man struck by lightning is 1:3,000. Nuclear energy is stable and safe. In Poland, we are able to deal with radioactive waste, an example of which is the radioactive waste repository in Różan, which has been in safe service for over 50 years. The fact that no one died of radiation exposure in Fukushima failed to break through to public awareness.
The implementation of nuclear energy is an investment in Polish engineering know-how and a knowledge-based economy. The nuclear industry is characterised by very high safety standards and technical requirements comparable to those of the aerospace industry. The nuclear sector is closely related to the development of scientific and research facilities. In Poland, we have a domestically-constructed research nuclear reactor ‘Maria’ and renowned centres with experience in this field. Poland is also the world’s leading producer of radiopharmaceuticals used in oncological diagnostics and therapies, responsible for one-fifth of the world’s production of molybdenum-99, the most important medical isotope.
For the Polish industry, nuclear power provides an opportunity to implement technologically advanced projects that can contribute to the creation of stable, high-value jobs at the level of the entire economy. The development of the nuclear sector in Poland may also be a factor in accelerating the transfer of technologies and the development of many parent industries using ionising radiation.
The analysis of Poland’s industrial potential carried out by the Energy Ministry shows that Polish companies have experience in the implementation and supply of components for nuclear power plants. The catalogue “Polish Industry for Nuclear Energy” issued by the Energy Ministry lists over 300 entities competent in the field of nuclear energy. 25 Polish companies were involved in the construction of unit 3 at the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant in Finland. Polish contractors worked for nuclear power plants in Russia, Ukraine, Japan and Mexico, as well.
Nuclear power is not just about electricity production. The team appointed by myself recommended the commencement of work on the implementation in Poland of high-temperature reactors (HTR) of the newest, fourth generation, generating technological heat. Reactors of this type are small heat plants that serve industries using heat above 500 degrees Celsius. The implementation of this technology would put us in the forefront of countries developing the most advanced nuclear technologies, and such reactors could become our export product.
The HTR reactor is also promising for another reason. Making it possible to obtain a temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius, it could be used to produce the fuel of the future, which is hydrogen. It would be a civilisational leap for our country.
The Polish atom
It is true that nuclear power is expensive at the investment stage. However, nuclear is the cheapest energy, namely thanks to low fuel cost, long lifecycle (up to 80 years) and zero emission. Fuel and CO2 emissions account for as much as 70-80% of the cost of generating electricity in a gas power plant, as opposed to only 10% in a nuclear power plant. The recently rising prices of CO2 emission allowances highlight this difference in favour of the atom.
The Energy Ministry Energy has prepared an amendment to the Polish Nuclear Energy Programme, which will be submitted to the Council of Ministers by the end of 2018.
This post is also available in: FR (FR)