The construction of a nuclear power plant creates numerous and very diverge opportunities for Polish contractors. For instance the installation of electrical wiring, which some disparagingly call “cable-laying” is an important part of the works, without which no power plant, not just a nuclear one, would be able to launch – Adam Rajewski from the Institute of Heat Engineering at the Warsaw University of Technology explained in an interview with BiznesAlert.pl.
BiznesAlert.pl: In your opinion, what economic benefits the construction of a nuclear power plant in Poland may bring, especially in the context of new jobs?
Adam Rajewski: When it comes to jobs, we need to count in the people that will operate the nuclear power plant, which is between a few hundred and over a thousand, depending on the number of blocks, as well as jobs created to build the plant itself. Perhaps the most important fact is that the NPP creates an entire ecosystem around itself, including jobs in the service industry to provide services to the new residents, etc. Such NPPs, similarly to coal-fired plants, are huge establishments, which have a positive impact on their surroundings. Such facilities are also visited by employees from various parts of Poland, Europe and the world. They come to settle permanently, or to conduct inspections, reviews, etc., and thus create additional demand for local services. However, we need to really look into why we are building an NPP. Its purpose is to provide a stable supply of energy generated with no emissions. We need to remember that it’s its basic task. The benefits for the local economy and jobs are important, but they cannot overshadow its basic job – power production. A production that is stable and as cheap as possible, so that we can avoid what has recently happened in Sweden, which shut down its NPPs too quickly and now needs to import power from abroad, including from Poland. The power industry’s basic task isn’t to create jobs, just as it isn’t the job of a public transport company to increase employment in the city. The states that have nuclear power in their energy mixes can count on energy prices that are more stable in the long run. One of the reasons behind that is that the participation of nuclear fuel in the cost of energy generation is relatively low in comparison to, e.g. gas-fired power plants.
I agree, this is important. However, we cannot discard the economic impact of building new nuclear capacities. There is a tendency to compare the impact of NPPs on the Polish economy to, e.g. the effect of offshore wind farms. It is said that they will become a significant driving force behind our economy. Therefore, it is pertinent to ask about the potential and experience of Polish companies in building an NPP. How can we use it?
I am glad you asked this question and compared NPPs to wind farms, because this observation does function in the media and it is often accompanied by the opinion that renewable energy is superior to nuclear. However, the fact is that in case of wind farms and NPPs we will have to import technologies. We do not have producers capable of manufacturing advanced wind turbines that can be installed in the Baltic. Only a few companies in the world are able to do this. Similarly, we do not own any firms that could build a Polish nuclear reactor, because, again, this is a job that only a few companies across the world can handle. So, in both cases we will have to import the technology. Offshore wind power is to become an important factor in Poland’s energy mix, and in this case a lot of money will go abroad. That’s a fact. In both cases Polish businesses may play a big role at the design and implementation stages. In case of nuclear power the rule is simple. The further we are from the reactor, the less considerable our the technical skills need to be. In Poland we do have companies that are successful contractors engaged in NPP construction across the world, they have the relevant experience. I am talking about companies that handle both small gigs at the construction sites, as well as the more advanced players that install ventilation systems at nuclear facilities or lay the cables. And herein appears another problem perpetuated by the media: the statement that Poles will only “lay the cables”. I honestly feel helpless when I read stuff like this, because installing the electrical wiring is a key issue that engages many specialists, creates high-paying jobs, so I do not understand why anyone would have a problem with this. When it comes to the participation of the Polish industry in the construction of the NPP, at this point it is difficult to talk about numbers, because first we need to define what the investment will involve and what it won’t. Without such a definition there is too much room for manipulation. Poland wants to involve as many domestic contractors as possible, but this does not mean we will build the reactors themselves.
What businesses will be needed once the power plant is ready? What skills and what companies the NPP will need down the road?
Once the NPP is up and running Polish companies will be able to thrive in many areas. We need to remember that the end of the construction does not mean all equipment has been delivered. Things will have to be replaced and maintained at the NPP. The reactor will last very long, but all the other elements will have to be modified, maintained, replaced. I don’t think we will immediately acquire skills to produce and replace, e.g. control rods, but when it comes to other parts that require less expertise, I believe we will. Moreover, there are a number of activities related to the ongoing exploitation of such an NPP, which can be successfully done by contractors. Like I mentioned earlier, the NPP will also employ hundreds of people, some of whom will have very specialized skills, e.g. the people in the control rooms, while others will be less qualified, e.g. the security guards. Of course an NPP is a very particular facility, but from the point of view of the job market it is simply an industrial plant, which requires various specializations and competencies. The specialists will have to be educated, which will have a positive impact on Polish universities. This is also about specialists that handle central management, which supervises and manages the project on the political end.
Exactly. You mentioned the staff of the future NPPs. We have a reactor in Świerk, we have research institutes, universities. However, is our personnel competent at a level that will enable them to quickly and efficiently get ready to manage such an investment as a nuclear power plant?
At this point we definitely do not have a complete staff capable of managing the construction of an NPP and then running it. If today we did educate people like that, they would emigrate abroad in search of a job, as they would not find one here. We do have some skills in operating a research reactor called Maria, but that’s not where I would look for the future NPP operators, even though when it comes to supervision, the knowledge and experience we have can turn out to be of key importance. However, in order to implement the Polish Nuclear Power Programme it will be necessary to coordinate the actions of Polish educational institutions. The government will also have to work with universities. We will also have to train skilled technical specialists that will have secondary technical education. This is where we need to put the work in, and the Polish Nuclear Power Programme talks about it. Poland has a long way to go, which means we need good coordination and a plan.
Interview by Mariusz Marszałkowski