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European emissions targets see Poland considering nuclear option

22 April 2005 – Poland’s deputy environment minister Tomasz Podgajniak has called for the development of nuclear power facilities in Poland as a solution to the struggle to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

Brussels wants to drastically limit CO2 emissions in Europe by 15-30 per cent before 2020, and then by 60 per cent before 2050. The European Commission is demanding that Poland reduce its plans for 2005-2007 CO2 emissions by 16.5 percent. This means that Poland needs to find sources of energy other than coal, which currently dominates the energy industry.

“If we can’t base [energy generation] only on coal, then on what? … I am definitely in favour of developing nuclear power in Poland – I don’t see any alternative,” he told Gazeta Wyborcza.

Poland’s energy sector has little hope of developing renewable sources of energy like wind, water or solar power. Renewable sources of energy could supply around 10 per cent of Poland’s energy needs by 2020, but that still means that a new robust, clean source will be needed to provide the bulk of the country’s power. Developing nuclear-power facilities is described as one of the targets of the government’s energy policy until 2025, which states that the first nuclear power plant should be opened by 2022.

Nuclear energy has been considered before, but as Dr Stanislaw Latek of the National Atomic Energy Agency said: “Podgajniak is the first to admit that there is no alternative to nuclear energy.” What’s more, Latek adds that because Poland’s dependence on coal will continue to conflict with EU policy, “we might be forced to develop nuclear energy even sooner than the 2020s.”

There are 439 nuclear reactors in the world, the bulk of which are in Europe, producing roughly 16 percent of global electricity. Most CEE countries have nuclear reactors – in 2003, 80 percent of Lithuania’s electricity came from nuclear plants, while in the Czech Republic and Hungary they account for about one-third of electricity output.

As Latek said: “Stopping the building of a nuclear plant in Zarnowiec was a mistake. Not only did we lose $1bn on it, but a similar reactor is working well in Hungary.” He adds that for the first time in many years there is a positive social climate for such investments in Poland. A survey by Pentor from December 2004 shows that more Poles favour developing nuclear power installations (42 per cent) than are against it (38 per cent).

Green organizations like WWF Poland are firmly against the country adopting nuclear energy. “Poland is one of the few EU countries that does not have to tackle the nuclear waste problem,” said WWF Poland Director Ireneusz Chojnacki. “Let’s look at the problems our western neighbours are dealing with. We should be happy we have managed to avoid them so far. Let’s learn from others’ mistakes.”

WWF Poland is calling for increased conservation and more focus on developing renewable energy sources. But it’s questionable if cutting down on energy use and developing renewable energy sources will ensure that Poland achieves the major reductions in emissions required by the EU. The government, for its part, sees such calls as unrealistic. For example, according to the environment ministry, energy obtained from wind could meet only 10 per cent of the country’s energy demands in 2020.