Many things can change now in Poland, as the largest liberal-oriented political grouping in the country, called the Civic Coalition, has the potential to form the next government
However, at least one common point regarding domestic policy is already clear: the desire to become a power in the field of nuclear energy.
Bringing nuclear energy to the forefront is presented as a delayed climate policy after years of neglect. Poland’s energy system relies on fossil fuels to nearly 80% – the highest percentage in the EU.
The conservative government recently announced plans to build eight full-sized conventional nuclear reactors in three locations and up to 100 small modular reactors (SMRs) in the coming years. Preparatory work for an advanced pressurized water reactor (PWR) – the first nuclear power plant on Polish territory – has already begun. In September, one of Poland’s state-owned companies signed a contract with American firms Westinghouse Electric and Bechtel for the development of an AP1000 PWR model reactor, which is expected to start producing power in just 10 years.
“Our future energy system will have two pillars: renewable energy and nuclear energy,” said Adam Guibourge-Czetwertynski, Polish Deputy Minister of Environment and Climate, to Foreign Policy.
As for renewable energy, Poland has finally started to make progress: according to the Warsaw-based Energy Forum reflection group, in 2022, 21% of its electricity supply was provided by a combination of eco-technology. This modest but undeniable progress was followed by a spectacular explosion of rooftop solar installations over a three-year period, triggered by a government-initiated subsidy. Today, one in four Polish houses has photovoltaic panels installed on the roof, and even more would have such installations if the government had not canceled the subsidy program in 2022.
The Civic Coalition, the presumed leaders of the next government, promises to replace coal as the primary source of electricity in Poland by the end of the decade, transitioning to wind, solar, and nuclear energy.
Regarding nuclear energy, currently in the United States, there are no nuclear reactors under construction due to their exorbitant construction and insurance costs and a kilowatt-hour price three to eight times higher than wind and solar energy. Also, since 2017, no other American-designed reactor models, such as the AP1000, have been built anywhere in the world. The question is, how does Poland expect to pay for 108 of them if even the United States can’t afford to build them?
Guibourge-Czetwertynski explained that in addition to the $46 billion Poland plans to spend, there would also be assistance from the United States (which is not specified). Furthermore, he argues that the costs of nuclear energy do not reflect the fact that, unlike wind and solar energy, but similar to coal, it is a baseload source of energy; meaning it can generate the minimum amount of energy needed at any time of the day.
And, unlike Germany, which had planned (mainly with Russian gas) to cover the gaps until a system based solely on renewable sources takes over, Poland quickly started the process of phasing out Russian fossil fuels after Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.
As for speed, Guibourge-Czetwertynski is just as naive in drafting a realistic business plan as in other aspects. The Olkiluoto 3 reactor in Finland, which is the first newly built reactor in Europe in the last 15 years, took 17 years for construction and commissioning – 3.5 times longer than planned, not to mention the financial and legal preparations. The costs of the Finnish plant nearly tripled during this fiasco.
Unofficially, Polish energy experts say that they – and perhaps figures like Guibourge-Czetwertynski – know that their proposals are optimistic and utopian. Poland’s energy structure, as well as that of Central and Eastern Europe, is deeply conservative, and many of its ideas are inherited from the communist era. It cannot conceive, despite numerous studies and best practices from across the continent, that an energy system can operate exclusively on renewable sources, smart grids, storage capacities, hydrogen, and various demand response strategies.