As long as there is no nuclear power plant in Poland, the discussion about it is full of myths that should be debunked before construction starts, especially considering the conjecture that the contamination of the Odra river should raise concerns about the safety of waters near the atom – writes Wojciech Jakóbik, editor-in-chief at BiznesAlert.pl.
The unexplained contamination of the Odra river is being used to speculate about the safety of waters near the nuclear power plant that is to be build in Poland. This is a good opportunity to dispel the various myths about the project. Groundwork hasn’t even started at the construction site of Poland’s nuclear power plan, but myths are already aplenty.
According to the Polish Nuclear Power Program, by the end of 2022 Poland will choose a technology partner and a financing model for the atom, so that the first reactor will be built in 2033. Thus, there is still some time to learn more about this megaproject. This is especially important considering the fact that unconfirmed revelations have already seeped into the media stoking fears about nuclear power. They should be dispelled before public consultations on the NPP are launched. The meetings are organized by the General Director for Environmental Protection and one of the participants is the Polish Nuclear Power Plants, the company responsible for the programme and, in the future, for the operation of the reactors. The arguments against nuclear power refer both to the construction and operation stages. These are the most interesting of them.
Atom doesn’t pay off? It’s making a comeback
The first argument aimed at discouraging Poland from nuclear power is the claim that the pressurized-water reactor (PWR) technology is obsolete and uneconomical, so nuclear power is actually winding down. The International Energy Agency has reported that by 2050 the capacity of nuclear power around the world will increase to 812 GW from 413 GW in 2022. This is a net zero scenario, which assumes a fight against CO2 that is as quick as possible. The maximum increase in nuclear capacity in the world is expected to reach 27 GW per year in the 2030s. The argument for atomic energy goes beyond the pursuit of climate neutrality through nuclear power, which doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, but at the same time stabilizes the development of renewables, which hinge on the weather. It is also about security in an era of the energy crisis. That is why Germany started talking about keeping its remaining NPPs after 2022, while France wants to continue to replace its old NPPs, which goes against its previous plans to follow Germany, which had been proposed during the presidential campaign by Emmanuel Macron. However, the fact is that nuclear power projects in Europe, such as Hinkley Point C in the UK and Flamanville in France, are decades behind schedule and over budget. However, the Barakah power plant in the United Arab Emirates, built by KHNP from South Korea, shows that it doesn’t have to be the case (the first reactor at Barakah was built within 6 years, to compare, it took 17 years to build new coal-powered units at the Opole power plant in Poland). Especially that any new projects can use the lessons learned from endeavors such as Hinkley Point C and Flamanville. Importantly, the economy is also in favor of the atom. A rather expensive construction, worth tens of billions of dollars, ends with the commissioning of a unit that works for 60 years without interruption with minimal fixed costs, and generates cheap and stable energy, that will determine the competitives of the economy. Conventional power plants work 20 years shorter, and renewables 40, which generates additional repowering costs.
Building nuclear power will not harm anyone
Problems associated with the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland may discourage some residents of the preferred Lubiatowo-Kopalino location. They fear that the beaches in the area will be closed during construction, and trucks supplying the construction site will drive day and night on the surrounding roads. The development of the NPP will create a huge construction site in Pomerania also for accompanying infrastructure: roads, railway, powerlines, telecommunication lines, accomodation and more. The equipment and materials are to reach Lubiatowo-Kopalino via the seaports of Gdynia and Gdańsk and from the Gdańsk airport. However, this means that the Polish nuclear power plant will have its own transport routes, which can drive the economic development of the surrounding area, without putting a strain on the existing infrastructure. For instance by the end of 2026 a special access road will be built between the S6 expressway and Lubiatowo, which will be used to supply the construction site. In order to minimize the inconveniences related to transport, the project also envisages the creation of a special marine structure called MOLF (Marine Off-Loading Facility), via which some of the materials will be transported by sea directly to the site, to make sure the burden on the roads is not too big. Some also claim that the new facility will discourage tourists from visiting the seaside towns. Firstly, the average radiation dose for people living near nuclear power plants is only 0.001 millisivert per year, and the natural radiation received by people per year is 2.5 millisivert, so there is no danger of being near a nuclear power plant. The example of the LNG terminal in Świnoujście, another megaproject of the 3rd Polish Republic, whose personnel also partially transferred to Polish Nuclear Power Plants, shows the compatibility of such facilities with tourist traffic. The beaches of Świnoujście remain full, and the LNG terminal is another attraction to photograph. Examples from other countries show that the atom does not deter tourists, for instance the Point Beach Power Station on Lake Michigan or San Onofre in California.
Atom’s bad? Science doesn’t prove it.
The prospect of a nuclear power plant operating in Poland also raises concerns about human health and environmental safety. However, seawater used to cool reactors is returned to the environment completely safe, both in terms of composition and temperature. There is also no scientific evidence to support the popular hypothesis that a nuclear power plant raises the risk of cancer in the population living in its vicinity. Even the high-profile Fukushima power plant disaster caused by the tsunami in 2011 did not have an increased impact on health, according to the United Nations, and there is no reason to suspect that an efficient plant in Poland will. The prestigious Nature magazine published in 2011 a study by Daniel Cressey, according to which there is no link between leukemia in children and them living in the vicinity of NPPs. A study published in Environmental International in 2016 shows that proximity to a nuclear plant does not increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer.
Some also insist that the atom will cook the fish in Pomerania, or that only foreigners will get the new jobs. It’s also supposed to turn the area into a nuclear wasteland. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is also worth returning to the claim disseminated in social media that the atom will contaminate water, a claim that appeared after the poisoning of the Odra river, which obviously could not have had anything to do with nuclear power, which Poland doesn’t have yet. Some twitter users began to speculate on the platform, that the organizational problems we’ve been witnessing after the contamination of Poland’s second biggest river, raise concerns about the safety of waters near the atom, which is to be built in Lubiatowo-Kopalino, by the seaside. The water from the Baltic will indeed be used to cool the reactors. This was one of the arguments for such, and not another location of the facility. However, the water from the reactor will never seep into the sea. Nuclear power plants with water-pressure reactors have two separate water circuits. The primary one cools the reactor, and the secondary one drives the turbine and is cooled by another circulation with seawater. These three water sources are not in contact with each other. Water from the Baltic is used like cold water in a pot, into which a bottle of baby milk is put. It takes heat from the water in the power station without contact, and its temperature is closely monitored. This means that it will not be able to cook fish in the Baltic. The water will be dumped about 3.5 kilometers from the shoreline at a temperature 10 degrees Celsius higher than that which was taken for cooling. The discharge will be spread and will take place at the appropriate depth, so that the temperature difference at the surface one kilometer from this point does not exceed 2 degrees and two kilometers further 0.5-1 degrees Celsius.
Tall stories about the big, bad, atomic wolf
The aura of secrecy surrounding nuclear projects, which is necessary for security reasons, as well as three serious breakdowns at NPPs in the past, fire the imagination, but numbers should have a cooling effect on our nerves. It is worth remembering that the fight against nuclear energy can be part of an information war designed to maintain Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels, with Russian gas topping the list, which is causing problems in the era of the energy crisis. The most important thing is that the construction of the NPP finally starts, because for now the bogus nuclear fears are just a story about a big, bad iron wolf.