A report on the environmental impact of the Polish nuclear power plant should be published in early March. The special act on nuclear power will be adopted at that point as well. The government, which wants to make binding decisions in 2022, is facing criticism from the Green Party and competition in the form of small nuclear reactors, writes Wojciech Jakóbik, editor-in-chief at BiznesAlert.pl.
Who will be able to evaluate nuclear power in Poland?
The change of the water law is awaiting the signature of the president of the Republic of Poland. It will be followed by the publication of an environmental report on the impact of the first nuclear power plant in Poland. BiznesAlert.pl has learned the report should be published in late February or early March, depending on the date of the president’s signature.
The lawmakers want the new regulations to spearhead the amendments to the law on environmental impact assessment of 2019, and thus allow to adopt the report in accordance with the new regulations. The Environmental Impact Report is to be the subject of a so-called environmental impact assessment, an environmental decision, which in turn will result in a location decision. The preferred location is Lubiatowo-Kopalino. “The only procedure for issuing a decision on environmental conditions for investments in the construction of a nuclear power facility – a project consisting in the construction and operation of the first nuclear power plant in the Republic of Poland, hereinafter referred to as:” decision on environmental conditions”, was initiated at the request of the investor submitted in 2015,” reads the explanatory memorandum on the new law. Since 2015, the procedure for issuing the above-mentioned decision has been suspended. During this period, the rules under which competent authorities act to issue decisions on environmental conditions have undergone numerous and significant changes.
“Given how frequent and profound the changes to these rules have been, the public authorities involved in the decision-making process on environmental conditions would be obliged to apply the rules in an outdated version, inconsistent with other regulations and contrary to the current will of the legislator. This may have a negative impact on the efficiency of the ongoing proceedings and the durability of the administrative acts issued therein, which should be considered inappropriate, especially given the size and importance of the investment consisting in the construction and operation of the first nuclear power plant in the Republic of Poland,” we read further.
“The bill is not contrary to the law of the European Union,” write its authors and here lies the bone of disagreement with the opposition. The Minister for European affairs, Konrad Szymański, stated that these rules were in line with his responsibilities. According to the opponents of the new regulation, including prominent senator Stanisław Gawłowski from the Civic Platform, according to directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011, the right to consultation is available to all interested parties, while the new law limits them to “eight municipalities”. “From the point of view of European law, this investment has an impact… its range of impact is thousands of kilometers. We all remember the Chernobyl accident and the radioactive cloud. We know how far it can spread,” warned the senator during a meeting of the Sejm Committee on Energy, Climate and State Assets on January 25, 2022. “The adoption of this law in the extent proposed by the group of Deputies, and in the end by the Sejm, means that the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland will be blocked, because it is Turów to the extreme, because the dispute that will be caused by this will have consequences in the decision taken by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), blocking the possibility of implementing this law,” he claimed.
“The adoption of this law in this version will violate the directive, and will block the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland. That’s the first problem. Secondly, it is also incompatible with the international Espoo convention, to which, for example, Russia has acceded. Also, this law violates those provisions in this respect,” Gawłowski explained. However, he did not take into account the fact that the cross-border consultations on the environmental impact report would be carried out in the same manner, as in the case of the Polish Nuclear Energy Programme, which passed them unscathed. “The bill is certainly in line with European legislation. It has also been agreed with the Minister for European Affairs. We have the results of the evaluation of the GDEP, which clearly indicate that this is a properly prepared document. As far as this document is concerned, there is no doubt that it is well prepared. I confirm this. It is also in line with the Espoo convention, which Mr. Senator emphasized negatively here, that it violates it, which is not true,” argued Deputy Minister of Climate and Environment Piotr Dziadzio.
However, some politicians may be fuelling social resistance to the atom in Pomerania. “Those living within a radius above than 100 m from a given investment no longer have the right to be a party to the administrative procedure, i.e. de facto they also have no right to go to court about this decision. This goes against the rights of the civic society. This law is against the people. One investor versus the residents of municipalities where a nuclear investment could potentially be located in many years, more than a decade or not at all,” warned Urszula Zielińska from the Green Party. The rapporteur of the project, Anna Paluch from Law and Justice, expressed a different opinion. “It is not true what the vice-president said here, that it will be 100 m from the facility, because here the lex specialis is the special act on the nuclear power plant and according to that law the scope of the affected stakeholders will be determined on the basis of that act,” she said during the committee meeting. In the end, the committee rejected the Senate’s proposal against the changes to the water law, and the shape of the consultation will be defined in the nuclear special act, specifically through a government regulation. However, the environmental report will be subject to a cross-border procedure and I wrote in December 2021 that this could be a source of problems in relations with our neighbors with Germany in the lead.
The nuclear special act in question is a draft law amending the law on preparation and implementation of investments in nuclear power facilities and related investments and some other laws. At the time of writing this text, it was at the stage of being forwarded to the Standing Committee of the Council of Ministers, but according to the plan it is to be adopted in March 2022. The basic decision of the Minister of Climate determines the criteria and conditions that the investor needs to meet to acquire a decision on locating the investment. The change in the law is intended to move the main decision to the beginning of the process in order to reduce the risk to the investor, as I wrote about in December. Now it will made before the final location is selected, which will be possible after consultations on the environmental report, which is to be consulted more quickly thanks to the changes in the water law. This has been changed to make things easier and safer.
Who will be able to become a nuclear investor in Poland?
Another way to speed up the process is to expand the pool of investors, who so far had to have a year of experience in the operation of units with a total capacity of at least 1000 MWe, or one year of experience for a unit with a capacity of at least 200 MWe. This is important for the next dispute that will arise from the competition of small nuclear reactors. The requirement was removed, and the opinion of the head of the Internal Security Agency on the impact of investments on the internal security of the state was added. This, in turn, is a way to exclude undesirable investors from the point of view of foreign policy and security, such as the Russian Rosatom. Although the removal of the experience requirements is a nod to small nuclear reactors investors, since this technology is not yet on the market, some of them remain dissatisfied with the nuclear special act, because they hope for the fastest possible adoption of regulations allowing SMRs to be licensed in Poland. Among the most active lobbyists are representatives of Synthos Green Energy, which together with the Polish PKN Orlen is to create an SMRs company using GE Hitachi technology, to build the first reactor of this type in 2029. Without the relevant law, it will not receive a license, which means the reactor won’t be constructed. For this reason, Synthos is seeking to amend the existing nuclear law so that it introduces specific definitions. However, the legislators reject these expectations by arguing that it is the investor who should first determine the design requirements, location, safety or environmental impact assessment, so that the lawmaker are able to propose regulations. However, Synthos does not have this knowledge at this stage and has therefore not put forward any concrete legislative proposals, but merely questions the existing ones. BiznesAlert.pl has learned that Orlen is working with the Ministry of Climate and Environment, waiting for new data from Synthos, which it would probably have to get from the Americans at GE.
Early spring is melting frozen disputes
The Polish Green Party is taking part in anti-nuclear protests in Poland with the participation of German activists with the involvement of MP Tomasz Aniśko. Unofficially, we found out that it is organizing opposition among the residents who live in the vicinity of the preferred location Lubiatowo-Kopalino. Stanislaw Żaryn, the Spokesperson of the Minister-Special Services Coordinator f warned that protests of this kind may be inspired to force Poland to abandon its nuclear plans. The position of the Greens may be strengthened by the current political dispute in Poland, which has apparently shattered the consensus around the construction of the atom, which, despite the lack of solutions, had support in the years 2007-2015 under the Civic Platform coalition government and after 2015 during the Law and Justice term. The opposition’s new energy programs, including Civic Platform’s and Szymon Hołownia’s Poland 2050 no longer include nuclear energy, although the Civic Institute’s associated with this side of the political scene, does. It may turn out that the growing political dispute will harm the nuclear project, which is finally heading for a real settlement in the early spring of 2022. If we add to this the possible resistance from Germany to the cross-border procedure, or the distraction caused by the SMR competition, which can lengthen the legislative process instead of shortening it, we have a recipe for a beautiful disaster. The atomic spring is coming. Are the Poles determined enough to initiate the construction of the first nuclear reactor to be built in Pomerania in 2033?