China can use services to build up its position on the European nuclear market. Will it use them to fight for the Polish nuclear power plant? – writes Piotr Stępiński, editor of the BiznesAlert.pl.
In an interview with Svenska Dagbladet Henrik Häggström, analyst at the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies of the Swedish Defence Academy, pointed to the growing interest of Russian and Chinese services in the Swedish nuclear sector. In his view, Beijing’s particular attention is an industrial espionage, the aim of which is to gain access to technology. According to the expert, this would enable the Chinese to become a leader on the global nuclear markets.
Nuclear power in Sweden
At present, about 40 per cent of the energy produced in Sweden comes from nuclear power plants. In 1980, Stockholm decided to phase out nuclear energy. Thirty years later, the Parliament rejected the decision to extend the life of 10 units, which were to be shut down as part of the 1980 measures. At the same time, it was decided to shut down two reactors with a total capacity of 1,200 MW. In 2015, a decision was made to close the four oldest power plants by 2030. There are currently eight reactors in Sweden with a total capacity of 8,376 MW. These are PWR and BWR type units. In addition, our northern neighbours have a Westinghouse factory in Västerås, which produces approximately 400 tonnes of fuel per year for BWR and PWR type reactors. It also reaches European countries and Ukraine. Vattenfall, which is the operator of most Swedish installations, also buys fuel from the French Areva and Russian TVEL.
China learns how to operate nuclear power
Therefore, the Swedish nuclear sector can serve as an overview for China, which is committed to the development of nuclear power and nuclear technologies. Currently, the Middle Kingdom is operating 33 reactors with a total capacity of 28.97 GW. At the same time 22 units are being built. By 2021 Beijing intends to triple its nuclear power generation capacity to 50 GW, with a target of 150 GW by 2030. China is currently implementing or planning to build power plants in Asia, South America, Africa, and Europe. For the time being, based on Western technology, but the Chinese aspiration is to become self-sufficient in reactor construction and in other aspects of the fuel cycle. Scientists from the country known for the Great Wall are doing all they can to make the dream of nuclear power a reality. They have designed their Hualong One reactor (simply speaking, it is a modified version of the PWR – editorial note), which they want to sell on the global and European markets. However, it has not been certified yet. Nevertheless, Chinese scientists are working on further projects.
The European Union is looking less and less favourably on Chinese investments in the Old Continent. In the EU address presented in mid-September last year, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, proposed investment monitoring, which would give Member States the opportunity to oppose investments from third countries (including China) in strategic sectors of the economy. Including also energy. Earlier, the foreign media reported that Germany, France, and Italy increased the pressure on the European Commission to play a greater role in protecting some of Europe’s most innovative companies from politically motivated Chinese acquisitions.
Polish nuclear power from China? First of all, the ruling in the government
As I mentioned earlier, the Chinese CGNPC has expressed its readiness to build a nuclear installation in our country as well. After last year’s visit to the Middle Kingdom of Andrzej Piotrowski, Deputy Minister of Energy and after the signing of the agreement on cooperation in terms of peaceful use of nuclear energy, much was said on this subject in the media in Poland. There were even suggestions that China is offering multi-billion worth of investment in Poland in exchange for Chinese nuclear technology. It does not change the fact that despite many trips and meetings of Deputy Minister Andrzej Piotrowski with potential suppliers from China, Japan, South Korea, and France, the fate of the Polish nuclear power plant still remains unresolved. The middle of January has passed and the decision to build a nuclear power plant has still not been made, although the Ministry of Energy was convincing the Deputy Minister Piotr Piotrowski that this would happen in December. I also ignore the fact that last year, in addition to the decision on this issue, the public opinion was to know the details of the energy strategy. Now, according to the words of Krzysztof Skobel, Deputy Minister of Energy, it turns out that perhaps the decision will be made in February. It is possible that the Ministry of Energy may discreetly postpone the adoption of key decisions for the Polish energy industry.
Services in the background?
Given the role that China attaches to the export of nuclear technology, it is possible that in this situation it will try to lobby for its candidacy in the race for the Polish nuclear industry. Will it use the services to do this? Beijing could use soft tools such as promoting a positive image of China. The Russian Rosatom acted in a similar way in Lithuania. According to Lithuanian intelligence, the concern intended to create a positive image of the nuclear power plant under construction in Astravyets, Belarus, trying to drag, among others, the European Commission on its side. As reported last year by the services, a Russian-Belarusian Experts’ Club was established in Minsk in March 2016, involving well-known Russian propagandists. One of its objectives was to improve the image of the Belarusian nuclear power plant project.
This creates room for action also for Polish services. In the Internal Security Agency’s activity reports it can be read that the energy sector remains one of the most sensitive segments of the state’s economic security. Recognising and preventing risks in this area of the economy has therefore always been one of the priorities of the activities of the Internal Security Agency. In this context, monitoring the correctness of the Polish Energy Programme implementation is mentioned. In this area, the Agency’s activity is directed primarily at ensuring protection of key tender proceedings and also at providing opinions on draft legislation in the field of nuclear safety.
In this context, it is worth reminding the contract between PGE EJ1 (the company responsible for the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland – editorial note) and Australian WorleyParsons, which conducted environmental and location studies for the construction of the power plant. In December 2015, PGE EJ1 broke the agreement, explaining that there had been “a failure to meet the obligations resulting from the contact and delayed execution of works specified in the agreement.” According to “Rzeczpospolita” Daily, before signing PGE was warned by the Internal Security Agency that WorleyParsons has close business links with Russia. As a result, PGE lost part of the money from the contract worth over PLN 300 million (but we do not know how much exactly), and additionally, the design of the Polish nuclear power plant was delayed.
And it still records delays. Therefore, it is worthwhile in case the government gets ready to turn on the green light for the nuclear power and it will look for a supplier, approaching China with caution, which could be read many times on BiznesAlert.pl. All the more so since our NATO allies have nuclear technology.