Thursday, May 19, 2022

Poland downplays fears over nuclear plans despite Biden’s animosity

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Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election will not derail Washington’s cooperation with Warsaw on plans to develop its own nuclear energy sector, Poland’s climate minister said.

Donald Trump’s administration has forged close ties with Warsaw, where the right-wing government is led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party. In October, the United States signed a agreement write a design for the Poland project nuclear program, which plans to build six nuclear power plants with a capacity of 6 to 9 GW in 2033-43.

But relations with Mr Biden’s new administration have been fresher. During his campaign, Mr Biden sparked consternation in Poland by referring to the country in the same breath as Belarus – where Alexander Lukashenko severely cracked down last year after winning in a flawed election – and “The rise of totalitarian regimes in the world”.

Polish President Andrzej Duda – like his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin – was among the few world leaders who did not congratulate Biden on his November 3 victory until it was confirmed in mid-December by the college American election.

However, Climate Minister Michal Kurtyka played down fears the change would have a significant impact on Poland’s plans. “There is an advanced discussion with the United States on this subject and I think it is very promising,” he told the Financial Times.

“As far as I know, there is bipartisan support for the development of nuclear power in the United States, and I would not expect any change in a strategic decision that involved [our] country for a long time. “

Along with a 130 billion zloty investment in offshore wind projects, Poland’s proposed 150 billion zloty nuclear program is intended to help reduce charcoal addiction. Fossil fuel provided 74% of the country’s electricity in 2019, but is becoming less profitable as the EU increases its CO2 reduction targets with the aim of curbing global warming.

Piotr Naimski, the government’s main strategic adviser on energy, said in November that the end of this year would be the “last moment” for Poland to choose a strategic partner for the nuclear program.

The energy strategy envisions a “strategic co-investor” taking a 49 percent stake, although Mr. Naimski said in December that the investor’s stake could be “slightly” smaller.

“We are not only looking for a technology vendor or a builder who will build the blocks, but also a partner who will invest with us and take risks, including operationally,” he told media group Newseria Biznes .

The French EDF spoke with Poland about the project. But the favorite is the United States, which Poland regards as its guarantor of security. The Trump administration has been pushing for U.S. companies like nuclear reactor maker Westinghouse and engineering group Bechtel to be involved.

Michal Kurtyka, Polish climate minister, is convinced that Washington’s deal will be valid with Warsaw which seeks to end dependence on coal © Getty Images

Mr Kurtyka said nuclear power was an “obvious choice” because in addition to helping decarbonize the economy, it would give investing companies stable and competitive energy.

“What they expect is a reliable, zero-emission, climate-friendly energy source that is in line with the Paris Agreement. That’s why this nuclear program. . . should be built, ”he said.

Despite the enthusiasm of the climate ministry, big questions remain. One problem is timing. Many nuclear projects in the EU are lagging far behind, and just 12 years before the first plant came online, Poland has yet to choose a location or confirm its funding model.

“To assume that we can have the first nuclear power plant operational in 2033 is beyond optimism,” said Joanna Flisowska, head of the climate and energy unit of Greenpeace in Poland.

“We need to replace the coal-fired power plants now, as most are already expected to close by 2035 at the latest. . . Nuclear power is therefore the wrong answer. It’s too late. It’s too expensive and it’s not really a technology that works well with renewables. “

However, other analysts believe that nuclear power could play a role in the long term, especially given the new target reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030, instead of the 40% previously envisaged. This should drive up carbon prices and make coal energy less and less profitable.

“This higher climate ambition is a game-changer, not just for Poland, but for all of Europe,” said Robert Tomaszewski, energy analyst at Polityka Insight in Warsaw.

“Our projections suggest that before 2040 we are going to have some kind of coal exit from the energy sector in Poland. We will no longer be able to use coal because of the price of CO2. “

Aleksander Sniegocki, head of the energy, climate and environment program at WiseEuropa, a think tank, said nuclear power could play a role in Poland, “but not like in the French model where 80% of the energy comes from the nuclear”.

“It can really facilitate the end of the energy transition in the 1940s,” he said. “This could for example be the source of hydrogen, which can be produced not only from green energy but also from nuclear.”

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