Nuclear Power Makes a Comeback in Europe

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Russian aggression against Ukraine and the energy markets crisis have triggered a revival in nuclear energy, with many EU countries now planning to invest in this sector, including Poland. The country plans to build several such units in the coming years and, according to government assumptions, after 2040, about 20% of the country’s energy production is to come from nuclear power. “Nuclear projects are associated with many challenges. Some of them are political in nature, although luckily in Poland there is a sort of political consensus on the need for investment in nuclear energy. The second area of uncertainty is the issue of financing these investments, and the third is ensuring adequate personnel necessary for the construction of nuclear power plants,” points out Dr. Eng. Paweł Gajda from the Faculty of Energy and Fuels at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow.

“In Europe as a whole, we observe a change in the approach to nuclear power, although this obviously depends on which country we are talking about. Generally, in this part of Central and Eastern Europe, in Poland and in neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary, there is strong support for nuclear energy, and new projects are being considered. There is also a group of countries such as the Netherlands or Sweden, which are considering rebuilding nuclear power plants in Poland. Of course, France, traditionally pro-nuclear, confirms its plans to build new reactors. So there is a revival in the subject of new investments in nuclear energy in virtually most European countries,” explains Gajda to Newseria Biznes agency.

Poland plans to build several nuclear power plants in the coming years. The first is to be built in Lubiatowo-Kopalino in Pomerania and commence operation in 2033. It will be implemented in the technology offered by the American corporation Westinghouse, which will provide three AP1000 reactors. The entire government nuclear program plans to build a total of six blocks with a total capacity of 6 to 9 GW.

On Friday, November 24, Minister of Climate and Environment Anna Moscow issued a fundamental decision regarding the construction of the second nuclear power plant, which is to be established in Konin-Pątnów. This is a joint venture of ZE PAK and PGE Group (both entities established a joint venture PGE PAK Nuclear Energy) and the Korean corporation KHNP. It is expected to have at least two APR1400 reactors with a total capacity of 2800 MW. According to preliminary information, the construction of the power plant is set to start at the turn of 2028 and 2029.

Further plans concern small modular reactors (SMRs). At the end of March, in Washington, PKN Orlen, along with Synthos and other Canadian and American partners, signed an agreement to build the first SMR reactor in Poland in BWRX-300 technology with an installed capacity of 300 MW. The investment is expected to be implemented by Orlen Synthos Green Energy, with an estimated start-up date for the first reactor in 2029. Potential locations have already been identified (considerations include the vicinity of Oświęcim, Ostrołęka, Włocławek, and Nowa Huta). At the beginning of November, Orlen announced that the investment would be financially supported by the US Department of State through the Phoenix program (a US government initiative to support European countries in transitioning from fossil fuel energy to SMRs). Plans for the construction of an SMR reactor are also held by KGHM, in cooperation with the American company NuScale.

“We see acceleration in the implementation of nuclear programs in Poland, and there are a number of companies that declare such investments. They present schedules that are ambitious because preparing such investment requires obtaining a whole series of analyses and corresponding environmental or technology-related approvals, confirming their safety. There is no shortcut in nuclear energy, so these investments will have to take some time,” says the AGH expert.

As he points out, there are significantly more challenges associated with implementing nuclear investments. One of them is political decisions, although it seems that in Poland there is a political consensus on the need for investment in nuclear energy.

“The second area of uncertainty is the issue of financing these investments, because these are capital-intensive projects. The third very important area is to ensure the appropriate personnel necessary for the construction of nuclear power plants, and later their safe operation. Poland is only joining the group of countries that operate nuclear power plants, and we need to build an appropriate staff, educate appropriate specialists, create essentially a whole new industrial sector in Poland,” emphasizes Dr. Eng. Paweł Gajda.

In accordance with the nuclear energy program adopted by the government, in Poland in 2040-2045 approximately 1/5 of the domestic energy production will come from nuclear power. The Sobieski Institute in its recent report “Nuclear Energy for Poland” indicates that the introduction of nuclear energy and its combination with RES is the only real path that will allow our country to quickly and efficiently achieve climate neutrality.

“The target Polish energy mix – one that will ensure complete decarbonization of energy – will certainly require the participation of nuclear power, although of course renewable energy sources will most likely play a larger role in it. However, to completely decarbonize Polish energy, we will need at least several gigawatts of installed capacity in nuclear power plants,” confirms the expert. “There is a place here for both these large nuclear power plants, which can be built first, as they are technologies already implemented worldwide. However, later, small nuclear reactors can be a perfect supplement – especially those that thanks to bigger scatter will be able to work in cogeneration, producing not only electricity but also heat for heating cities.”

On November 21, the European Parliament voted to list nuclear energy as a green, zero-emission technology that will be supported to ensure Europe’s competitiveness and sovereignty over China and the United States. According to experts, this means success for France and several other EU countries – including the Netherlands, Sweden, and Poland – who are betting on this technology.

“The issue of European regulations in the field of nuclear energy is relatively difficult, as there are still some skeptical countries in the EU. This includes Germany and Austria, so it will be difficult to approach uniformly regulatory in all countries. However, it is certainly necessary to introduce appropriate programs, for example research ones, that would support the development of nuclear energy in member countries,” says Dr. Eng. Paweł Gajda.

Germany decided years ago to phase out its nuclear energy. The last three nuclear power plants (Bavarian Isar II, Lower Saxony Emsland, and Neckarwestheim II in Baden-Württemberg) were finally shut down in mid-April this year. However, the consequences in the form of a power deficit in the system appeared on the first day. Renewable sources – even supported by coal-fired power plants – were unable to balance it. Therefore, Germany had to import electricity from France, where energy is based on nuclear power by about 70% – more than in any other country in the world.