Poland’s nuclear energy programme stumbles again: Has PGE lost control of its sub-contractors?

In late February, during one of our regular strolls through the Lubiatowo dunes where the Polish government and the utility PGE are planning to build 3,000 MW of nuclear capacity, we found something peculiar. Bright orange sticks – exactly on the locations where the PGE subcontractor, Worley Parsons, wants to drill 20- to 200-meter-deep holes for their site assessment.

© Greenpeace / Krzysztof Lipinski

Such drilling directly next to two Natura2000 areas, in a unique dune landscape with wet valleys, could easily cause irreversible damage to this home of red deer, white-tailed and lesser spotted eagles. The EU Habitat Directive and the Aarhus Convention do not leave much space for interpretation: when irreversible damage to Natura2000 sites is possible, an environmental impact assessment has to be made with full public participation.

Any damage to the Natura2000 sites must be prevented. A decision on our request to the responsible environmental authorities is still outstanding. A permission for drilling – and where to drill – will not be issued before that is settled, and that will not be before mid-May, probably later.

We double-checked the spots where we found the sticks with the GPS data and the maps we had received from several authorities. There was no doubt about it: the sticks indicated the drilling locations. These little eyesores were potentially illegal, but certainly highly premature, steps by PGE or its sub-contractors. Here was a good reason for an “orange mushroom” hunt. A weekend later, we removed the sticks and returned them on March 11 to their official owner at PGE headquarters in Warsaw.

Fukushima Disaster Third Anniversary Protest in Warsaw. © Greenpeace / Bogusz BilewskiJacek Cichosz, the new CEO of PGE EJ1 is a friendly technocrat. This time there were no threatening letters, like one could expect from his predecessor Alexander Grąd, but something between a formal reaction and informal fatherly advice.

Explaining how much he regretted he was not there to talk with us, he said the orange sticks did not belong to PGE EJ1 or to any of their sub-contractors. Wait a minute? So we have to believe that someone with completely different intentions went into the dunes and placed the sticks on exactly the GPS and map-locations where the 34 drilling points are planned? Or has PGE EJ1 in Warsaw already lost control over its sub-contractors and really doesn’t know what it is doing? That does not bode well for the future.

Right now, it’s wooden sticks. But what happens if and when it comes to the quality of concrete used to build the plant? Or the welding and piping? Thousands of kilometres of cable? The integrity of the reactor pressure vessel? We can already hear the reactions: “We are sure that this is not our responsibility!” Or even worse: “No, no, no, no! This did not happen!” There are echoes from the past – Olkiluoto and Flamanville are still being fresh in our memories.

But PGE EJ1 is facing difficult times. First they lost their CEO Alexander Grad, who was for undisclosed reasons parked on fellow utility Tauron’s board at the start of the year. Then, on 1 April, former PGE director Hanna Trojanowska stepped down from her inside position as deputy minister for nuclear power, allegedly “because she had fulfilled her task” with the adoption of the so-called Polish Nuclear Energy Programme by the Council of Ministers.

Unfortunately for her, two days before this year’s Chernobyl anniversary, Greenpeace filed a legal complaint to Prime Minister Donald Tusk against the adoption of the Polish Nuclear Energy Programme. Important issues like a comparison with reasonable alternatives – for instance, energy efficiency and renewable energy – were not taken into account. Many of the 60,000 submissions to the plan’s strategic environmental assessment from Poland, Austria, Germany, Finland and beyond pointed that out. And, even if it may take some time, I believe we have a good chance to win.

In the mean time, Tusk faces a tough election challenge. In an effort to prove his leadership, he launched the Grand Idea of a European Energy Union as the path to energy security and a bulwark against Russian gas and oil bullying. If he looks carefully, he will see that independence from outside energy sources has the best chance with domestically-generated sun, wind, sustainable biomass and geothermal energy – in line with strict EU targets for a 55% greenhouse gas emission reduction, 45% of energy from renewable sources and 40% from energy efficiency, all by 2030.

Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to give into the public’s demand, save on tedious court procedures and compare different energy policy options. We, at Greenpeace, already know which energy sources will come out on top. Unlike the Polish Ministry of Economy, we did our homework with the energy [r]evolution scenarios for the EU and also specifically for Poland.

Oh yes, and then we’d find we don’t need any drilling in one of the most beautiful coastal zones of the country in order to do so.

Jan Haverkamp is Greenpeace expert consultant on nuclear energy and energy policy and lives in Gdansk, Poland.

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