Energy Nuclear 23 December, 2021 12:00 pm   
COMMENTS: Mirosław Kowalik

Kowalik: the nuclear can be an antidote to the energy crisis, but we cannot wait (INTERVIEW)

Miroslaw-Kowalik-590×2000 Mirosław Kowalik. Picture by Westinghouse

Markets take into account the possibility of fuel shortages, so they react with record price increases, triggering an energy crisis. Nuclear energy may be an antidote, but the investment process in this industry is long. Therefore, we should not wait, especially since we have a proven product with the necessary licenses – the AP1000 reactor – says Mirosław Kowalik, representative of Westinghouse in Poland. Why do we have to wait for the selection of a nuclear technology supplier in Poland until 2022?

Mirosław Kowalik, President of Westinghouse Polska: We are bound by a bilateral intergovernmental agreement, which specifies the date of presenting the CER (Concept Execution Report), which will include proposals for technical and financial solutions for the construction of nuclear power plants in Poland by Americans. The agreement entered into force in February 2020, and we have eighteen months to implement it, the works should end in mid-2022. The parties realize that the construction of a nuclear power plant is one of the most complicated investment processes among economic infrastructural projects, so it does take this much time to present a reliable and credible proposal, so that the Polish government can have enough knowledge to make a decision in this regard. This investment process involves many stakeholders, clearly defined regulations and requirements. The role of the nuclear supervision authority is also important, as it will ensure that operations are carried out safely and in accordance with the set requirements. Safety comes first. We should also take into account the requirements of the Polish Nuclear Power Program (PPEJ), which puts a strong emphasis on local conditions that cannot be known in a few months. We want to meet these expectations, while engaging companies with Polish capital in the construction of the power plant. Together with our partner, Bechtel, we are preparing a technical proposal based on the so-called FEED study (Frond End Engineering Design). We are contacting potential contractors to get to know the expectations of the Polish side well and optimize its participation. A nuclear power plant using the AP1000 reactor requires less floor space than other reactors in its class, and is distinguished by a modular design. In turn, its capacity is comparable to the largest unit currently operating in the Polish power system, i.e. the conventional unit in Kozienice with a capacity of 1,075 MW. Therefore, it should be easy for the Polish transmission system operator to determine the conditions for connecting the AP1000 block, and ensuring an appropriate level of security of operation in the network. AP1000 is the only generation III + reactor that has the so-called passive safety systems and meets the high safety criteria set out after the Fukushima accident. This system has been patented by Westinghouse and recognized as the safest in the world. The simplicity of solutions and modular design allow us to involve external entities to a greater extent during the construction of the power plant and throughout the supply chain.

EDF claims that it has already had far-reaching talks with Polish companies, such as Rafako guaranteeing the largest possible share of Polish capital in the nuclear project.

At the beginning of October, Westinghouse and Bechtel met with over 200 companies that want to take part in the supply chain in the construction of nuclear power plants in Poland. We started cooperation with some of them by providing them with detailed requirements, and we asked them to submit initial offers. We also performed over a dozen production audits. We cooperate with the Ministry of Climate and Environment, which supports the participation of Polish companies in the PPEJ, including by creating a catalog of companies interested in participating in the supply chain, as well as working on support programs for the domestic industry in order to create appropriate infrastructure and regulations for the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland . We will work with all interested parties to maximize the participation of Polish companies. Some companies still have time to retrain and take part in this strategic project. For many of them, the Polish Nuclear Power Program and cooperation with Westinghouse are an opportunity to build new competences, use the potential of domestic industry and science, and decarbonize the energy sector in a rational manner.

The launch date of the first PPEJ reactor is 2033. Could such a reactor be built faster?

Success depends on the implementation of the roadmap included in the PPEJ. That’s the determinant. One of the key decisions concerns the choice of technology in 2022. This will create great opportunities for the power from the first Polish nuclear block to flow in 2033. Further administrative decisions will be needed: location and environmental decisions, a permit for preliminary and preparatory works, and finally a construction permit, thanks to which the first concrete will be poured. If all the partners join in on their efforts, we may be able to meet the deadline. The recently proposed statutory changes are to accelerate the fundamental decision, and ensure the possibility of conducting some administrative proceedings simultaneously, or clarifying certain provisions regarding construction and commissioning. Completing the construction of a nuclear power plant is a complex process, and an unreasonable acceleration of the stages could entail a greater risk. It is enough for us to meet the deadlines set in the PPEJ, and I believe that the energy from the nuclear power plant will flow in 2033.

Limited resources in times of an energy crisis and Westinghouse’s large portfolio in Central and Eastern Europe make one ask whether this company has enough capacity to handle all of them?

Westinghouse focuses on developing a nuclear island. In addition to the nuclear reactor, a nuclear power plant consists of a conventional part known from conventional power plants and auxiliary devices, the so-called BoP (Balance of Plant), which includes, among others, cooling or water treatment systems. The advantage of the AP1000 reactor is its highly standardized and modular design. We focus on the construction of the reactor, the remaining works will be carried out with reliable partners such as Bechtel.

Most of the projects in Central and Eastern Europe do not coincide with the deadlines of PPEJ, so I do not see such a risk. Additionally, it is reduced by our active search for the largest possible group of suppliers that could participate in the construction of the nuclear power plant. We are identifying many companies that stand out thanks to appropriate references and production capacity. It is worth noting that our AP1000 reactor is a proven design, which has been in use in China since 2018. One of the units there broke the record for the shortest stoppage for refueling, which is currently 28 days. Almost half of the world’s nuclear reactors are based on Westinghouse technology. I am not afraid of being inundated with contracts. On the other hand, such a large number of new projects offers broad prospects for companies that will join the supply chain.

The European Commission decided that it would not be possible to achieve climate neutrality without the atom. The energy crisis has increased support for nuclear energy in Europe. What does your company think about this situation?

We are witnessing a breakthrough in the energy and industrial transformation. Economic changes are aimed at striving for climate neutrality and a minimum interference in the environment. The electricity sector is the core of the economy and determines competitiveness, and renewable energy is to help in this, hence the rapid implementation of new regulations, including the Fit for 55 package. We are also investing in energy storage and hydrogen production, but these technologies have not been yet developed enough to be available on an industrial scale. The European Green Deal suggests that we will move away from fossil fuels, so investors are giving up new investments in this area and market uncertainty is increasing. In addition, the prices of CO2 emission allowances are high. Markets take into account the possibility of fuel shortages, so they react with record price increases, triggering an energy crisis. Nuclear energy can be an antidote, but the investment process in this industry is long. Therefore, we should not wait, especially since we have a proven product with the necessary licenses – the AP1000 reactor.

As opposed to SMRs?

In contrast to small modular reactors, which have not yet reached technological maturity on an industrial scale. We still do not have reliable technical and economic data on SMRs and this must be borne in mind. The development of the SMR technology may supplement the energy mix in the future, mainly in industrial applications. On the other hand, large-scale nuclear reactors of the PWR type (pressurized water reactors) constitute the basis of the PPEJ as one of the elements of ensuring the country’s energy security. Generation III + reactors complement renewable energy based on wind or sun and guarantee safe energy supply. They can replace coal or gas power plants, providing a stable basis for the power system.

What about waste?

Poland has extensive experience in this field, as there is already a waste landfill in Różan. Countries all over the world are coping well with it, and I do not see any risk that the Polish operator of the power plant will not cope with such a task, the more so because we have clear regulations and standards, which are supervised by the National Atomic Energy Agency. It is certainly an important element of the PPEJ, which should be taken care of in accordance with the requirements and world experience. As Westinghouse, we will be able to shore our know-how in this area, if necessary.

Poland has been talking about a nuclear power plant for thirty years and there is still no decision. Are we credible?

We are closer to the implementation of this investment, among others, thanks to the creation of a specific framework and road map, included and adopted by the Polish government in strategic documents, such as the Polish Energy Policy until 2040 and the Polish Nuclear Energy Program. Polish companies will be better prepared to participate in this investment, and Westinghouse, as the creator and supplier of AP1000 technology, intends to actively cooperate with entities willing to participate in this process, meeting high technical and quality requirements. The energy crisis made it clear to Europe and Poland that without stable energy supplies we are not able to ensure energy security. A nuclear power plant based on the AP1000 reactor is such a basis and is emission-free, so it fits perfectly into the European Green Deal, and the turmoil on the market additionally increases the economic attractiveness of such a solution. The Polish government has more and more arguments to continue the nuclear program. This is a strategic project for Poland, and Westinghouse meets the expectations as a supplier of appropriate, proven and safe technology. Our commitment is also expressed through investments made in Poland. We have opened a shared services center in Kraków, where over 120 people have already found employment with Westinghouse business processes all over the world, and there will be a total of 160 of them. Central and Eastern Europe, including Poland, has great potential and it is here that we will want to allocate some resources for the implementation of further nuclear projects. Finally, it is worth adding that Poland has adequate human capital, good technical universities to educate staff – needed in the investment process and during the operation of the power plant. At the beginning of December this year, we started talks with universities of technology in Warsaw, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk and Kraków, during which we conducted meetings with staff and students, presenting the Westinghouse technology and offering a scholarship program for students.

Interview by Wojciech Jakóbik