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Energy 9 August, 2017 9:00 am   
Editorial staff

Jakóbik: Japan’s atomic flirt with Poland a chance for a stable relationship

At 8:16 am on 6 August 1945 the Little Boy nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The death of almost 80 thousand people allowed to end the Second World War. Today modern and friendly Japan wants to export nuclear technology. Perhaps this is why it organized a trip for Polish journalists, writes Wojciech Jakóbik editor in chief of BiznesAlert.pl.

Together with our guide from the Ministry of Energy, Justyna Bracha-Rutkowska, Wojciech Krzyczkowski from the Polish Press Agency and Piotr Maciążek, editor in chief at Energetyka24.com we accepted an invite from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). We will spend a week in Japan to learn more about its domestic nuclear sector. We will visit museums, lecture halls and two nuclear power plants. The trip was tailored specifically for us, which shows that the Japanese are hoping to interest the media with their nuclear technology.

Money first, then technology

Despite the fact that the Energy Ministry is sticking to its position that no final decision on constructing Poland’s first nuclear power plant has been made yet, formally nothing has changed. Poland’s energy policy until 2030 assumes it will be built. The policy is to be revised by the end of the year, at least on paper, and it may include a Polish nuclear power plant anyway. Within six months the Polish Nuclear Energy Program should be revised. Everything depends on financing, which Poles are painstakingly searching for. According to our sources at the ministry we would be able to find PLN 40-60 bn in the country to implement the project, because the sum will spread across at least the preparation years and a decade of construction.

On 18 March 2016 a seminar organized by METI and the Polish Energy Ministry took place. It was devoted to public dialogue and formation of staff for a nuclear program. “Poland is determined to implement a nuclear energy program and do it well. We are hoping for exchanging best practices with states such as Japan, which are very experienced in the sector,” Adnrzej Piotrowiski Vice-Minister of Energy said at the meeting. However, the scale of determination depends on who we ask at the ministry, because the other Vice-Minister – Grzegorz Tobiszowski is less supportive of the atom and more concerned about the primacy of coal in Poland’s energy mix its social consequences.

The exchange of experiences between Poland and Japan seems to make sense not only on the anniversary of the Hiroshima nuclear bombing, but also six years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which took place on 11 March 2011. A magnitude 9 earthquake caused a flooding and eruption of reactors at the Fukushima I power plant. Iodine and caesium contamination has been confirmed as far as 40 km away from the facility. These two tragic events from Japan’s history are an odium that discourages people across the world from the atom.

The disaster was a catalyst for Germany’s departure from nuclear energy where the society has traditionally fought against the sector. In Poland one may come across opinions that  because of what happened in Japan, we should not engage with this potentially dangerous technology. However, since there is no tradition of anti-nuclear activism in Poland, the support for such power plants is actually growing. According to a poll from January 2017 conducted for the Ministry of Energy, 61% of respondents support the construction of Poland’s atomic power plant. This is the highest result in the history of such polls since 2012.

In order to mollify those who are still afraid of the atom our Japanese hosts made sure that we meet with representatives of TEPCO. The company, supported by the central government, is responsible for decontamination activities after the Fukushima disaster. We will hear details on how they handled the event and what innovations they implemented to avoid such catastrophes in the future. We will attend a series of lectures on Japanese technology. We will also have theoretical classes on radiation and operation of rectors, which will allow us to have a glimpse into the way nuclear power plants work.

Surely, the Japanese would like to become Poland’s technological partner in nuclear energy, just like the other hopefuls in the line – Americans, French, Koreans and Chinese. However, considering the current situation where nuclear giants like EDF, Areva and Westinghouse are on the brink of a bankruptcy and projects such as Hinkley Point in Great Britain are hemorrhaging money, the first question Poles will ask will not be about safety, but about costs. Who and how much will pay for the Polish nuclear power plant? If it cannot be build without amortization, then what kind of support mechanism will be used and who will cover it?

The Japanese may offer at least a partial answer to this. Perhaps they will tells us how much it costs to maintain their power plants, which are slowly coming back online after Fukushima. They had to finance their functioning in cold reserve until kicking them back into gear. If they managed to do this, maybe Poles will be able to build their own nuclear power plant and perhaps that will happen thanks to Japanese technologies. The choice of technology will be secondary to the necessity to find a financial partner.

Atom is a good idea, but will we be able to implement it?

The Polish energy mix, which is dominated by coal will be changing. There is no point in increasing our dependence on natural gas by expanding its usage in power production. Renewable energy sources will need a back up in the form of conventional power industry until the technology of energy storage is sufficiently developed. At the same time, we need to take into account the emissions limits imposed by the EU’s energy and climate policy. Perhaps nuclear energy is the solution. On what terms? I will be looking for an answer to this question (and others too) in Tokyo and its surroundings during a week-long journeying in Japan. Send any suggestions and comments to my email [email protected] I will try to take them into consideration. You can follow the trip on social media, use #BAwJaponii.

Japan welcomed us with its officials’ exemplary manners and a festival of formalities at the Haneda airport, which our luggage failed to reach. Tokyo welcomed our tour with a spectacle of colors and flavors on the streets of the Ueno district where we are spending the first days of our trip. Modern Japan is a country that is healing its wounds after Hiroshima and Fukushima. It’s a state that wants to earn money on economic cooperation, also with Poland. Will we make a deal to build Poland’s nuclear power plant?