Energy Nuclear 13 December, 2018 10:00 am   
COMMENTS: Grzegorz Wrochna

Wrochna: Nuclear power is the Polish way to decarbonization (INTERVIEW)

Poland needs nuclear energy to meet climate targets for reducing CO2 emissions. According to prof. Grzegorz Wrochna from the National Center for Nuclear Research, the nuclear will allow a smooth exit from coal energy over several decades, without economic shocks and social crises. Can Poland afford a lack of nuclear energy?

Prof. Grzegorz Wrochna: It would seem that the choice of energy sources may be subject to political and investment decisions. But in Poland, no strategies or resolutions will increase existing coal or gas deposits, they will not cause the Sun to shine stronger and the wind will blow non-stop. In practice, the choice is strongly limited by the availability of raw materials, climatic conditions and the geopolitical situation. The available lignite deposits are coming to an end, hard coal is becoming more and more expensive, because we are extracting it from ever deeper depths. We have enough gas to heat homes, but the industry needs twice as much. There are not too many sunny days in our country. Wind on land blows an average of 20 percent of the time, and on the sea about 40 percent. In practice, in Germany, on average, land and sea farms manage to achieve about 20% of the installed capacity.

Where do you get energy for the remaining time?

In Germany, it was planned to use gas power plants powered by the Nord Stream gas pipeline. But it turned out to be too expensive and Germany is launching new coal-fired power plants. But here we encounter CO2 emission limits. Over the past year, the price of permits has increased from around € 7 per ton to over € 20. In Poland, the production of electricity from coal ceased to be profitable and we are awaiting large increases in energy prices.

The Supreme Audit Office in its report of March this year estimated that the delay in the implementation of nuclear energy so far influences the cost of purchasing CO2 rights for around PLN 1,5-2,6 billion annually. The mentioned increase in the price of emission rights indicates that these costs should be multiplied by at least 3.

Can the nuclear be a competitive source of energy generation?

In practice, the only alternative to satisfying the growing demand for electricity is nuclear power or electricity imports. Import, however, means a rise in prices, and the decrease in the competitiveness of our industry. In addition, rather we can not count on imports from the West, because the Germans themselves have problems with satisfying their own needs. And imports from the East are imports from Russian nuclear power plants (those in Russia and Belarus). Therefore, the alternative comes down to the choice between Polish nuclear power plants and Russian nuclear power plants. In particular, if instead of investing in nuclear reactors in wind farms, we will be forced to import from Russia either electricity or gas for its production for 60-80 percent of the time.

How and in what way could nuclear energy contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions in Poland?

If we even omitted the issue of security of supply and opted for gas power plants, we would have to close all coal-fired power plants quickly to fit the EU’s CO2 emission limits. It would be an economic and social catastrophe. Nuclear power plants are virtually emission-free, so replacing one nuclear power plant with the same power, creates a place to stay in the limit for the second coal-fired power plant. However, the possible pace of construction of nuclear reactors is limited. Even if the government suddenly decided that 100 percent of coal-fired power plants are replaced by nuclear ones, it would take several dozen years and no miner would lose his job before retiring. The construction of nuclear power plants will, therefore, enable a smooth exit from coal energy over several decades, without economic shocks and social crises.

So far, we have talked about electricity, but we use twice as much energy in the form of heat. In the case of electricity, today only the most powerful reactors, at least 1000 MW, are cooled with water. However, the heat can not be transported over long distances. Therefore, the reactor power must be selected for the needs of industrial plants that supply heat. The optimal solution here is high temperature gas cooled reactors (HTGR or HTR for short). Such reactors, due to the special construction of the fuel, where uranium is in the silicon carbide coating, are extremely safe, because it is impossible to melt the core. They can therefore be installed in the immediate vicinity of industrial installations or human residences.

Interview conducted by Piotr Stępiński