Polish and US dignitaries have signed off on the construction of Poland’s first nuclear power plant as part of the country’s gradual move away from fossil fuels.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, speaking at the signing ceremony on September 27, called the deal the beginning of a new chapter for Poland involving “the only clean, stable energy source that is technologically proven and verified in terms of safety”.
Morawiecki added that the project “also strengthens Polish security and our cooperation with the USA”.
The US is Poland’s main military ally and a supplier of liquified natural gas (LNG), which is part of the mix that has replaced Russian gas.
The new contract is between the Polish Nuclear Power Stations (PEJ) company and the US Westinghouse-Bechtel consortium for the design of Poland’s first nuclear power plant. Construction is slated to start in 2026 and conclude in 2033.
Warsaw has for decades planned to build nuclear power plants to replace its ageing coal-fired facilities. The country is among the worst air polluters in Europe and has decided to make nuclear power the cornerstone of its transition to carbon-free energy.
The planned site for the first nuclear plant is near the Baltic coast in Pomerania in the north of the country, about 280km from the border with Germany, which shut its own last nuclear reactors in April 2023.
In the European Union, Poland backs the French position on nuclear energy. Warsaw has been pressing for funds from the bloc to be made available for nuclear power development. That is so it can complete its energy transformation more rapidly and at a reduced social cost.
The development of nuclear power plants in Poland is opposed by Germany. Last year, the four German states closest to Poland said they objected to the Polish plan, raising environmental concerns.
There is little or no pushback to the proposal in Poland with both the ruling PiS party and most of the opposition in favour of the development.
Although environmentalists prefer the development of renewables, many reluctantly accept that without nuclear power Poland cannot realise the EU’s climate goals of halting coal extraction and burning.
Coal currently accounts for just over 70 per cent of Poland’s energy mix. Nuclear power is expected to make up 30 per cent of the country’s energy mix as reliance on the fossil fuel is gradually phased out.
The country is planning to spend a total of €35 billion to build two nuclear power plants with three reactors each, the second to be launched in 2043. The deal with the US is for the first three reactors of the first plant to be built in Pomerania.
There is also an agreement in the pipeline with South Korea for the construction of the second nuclear facility.
Poland is also investing in next-generation small modular reactors (SMRs). The first are to be built by the end of this decade.
The SMR project is supported by €2.7 billion of funding from the US official export credit agency EXIM Bank and €0.9 billion from the US Development Finance Corporation.
On the Polish side the development involves its energy giant Orlen and the Polish state PKO Bank.