Poland is struggling forwards to join the nuclear club – all of Poland? No, a small village on the coast...
When after the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986, Poland decided to abandon its only ongoing nuclear power project near the hamlet of Zarnowiec, a vast majority of the population supported the decision. Since then, a five to ten meter high concrete ruin ran full of water and is now a paradise for fishers and a colony of gulls.
After the Fukushima catastrophe, the situation is decisively different. On 24 February, 2012, Prime Minister Donald Tusk confirmed after a meeting with his Minister for Economy Waldemar Pawlak and the Minister for Regional Development Elżbieta Bieńkowska that Poland is determined to continue the execution of its nuclear program.
Until two years ago, this program was prepared under exclusion of any public debate and prepared for Parliament by the nuclear physicist, Zarnowiec veteran, former CEO of state utility PGE and now vice-minister for nuclear energy Hana Trojanowska. Unfortunately for the Ministry, environmental NGO Greenpeace pointed out this program had to be submitted to a strategic environmental assessment (SEA). A 900 page report was prepared in a bit more than a month and published just after Christmas 2010 – the public was given three weeks to respond. After protests by several NGOs that three weeks was not acceptable under the Aarhus and Espoo Convention, the period was prolonged to three months. After pressure, also a transboundary consultation, as prescribed by the EU SEA Directive and the Espoo Convention was prepared. Germany, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and later also Luxembourg joined the procedure and demanded under more public pressure also three months for submissions instead of the three weeks they were granted originally. Deadline 4 January 2012.
But the Polish public was still largely asleep on the issue. Until PGE announced in December 2011 its proposal for three potential sites for a new nuclear power station. In the original SEA documentation, 42 places were indicated, from which 5 had a priority. One of the sites published in December, however, was not among those: Ganski in the municipality of Mielno on the Western Polish Baltic coast. The people in this tourist area did not accept their sudden fate and in January sufficient signatures were collected for a local referendum that took place on 12 February 2012. Within a matter of two months, many of the inhabitants of Ganski had educated themselves on nuclear issues and decided they did not want PGE to come and ruin their landscape, put the population at risk and refuse to address issues like nuclear waste or the look for alternative ways to produce energy. During a PGE presentation in the second preferred location of Choczewo, a few days before the referendum in Mielno, people from Ganski and Mielno took the floor to inform a growingly sceptical regional population and anti-nuclear activists from the nearby larger cities of Gdansk and Gdynia of the ways that PGE was trying to manipulate the population. The PGE representatives' attempts to explain the advantages of nuclear power for the region were booed away.
The referendum in Mielno ended successfully with 94% of the population against the construction of any nuclear installation in the municipality.
Vice-minister Trojanowska reacted with the remark that the people had voted far too early, and that they did not know anything about nuclear power. She announced the start of a multi-million zloty nuclear propaganda campaign, financed by the Polish state, starting on the first of March. PGE, in the mean time, is preparing a tender for the construction of 3000 MW of nuclear on the location of Ganski, Choczewo or Zarnowiec. The locations of Choczewo and Ganski are on the sea-coast, while the Zarnowiec has two possibilities – one on a reservoir, that has insufficient cooling water for 3000 MW of capacity, and one on the coast. Preferred bidders include Areva from France, Westinghouse / Toshiba from the US and GE / Hitachi from Japan.
So far, coordinated influence from PGE (over its power as advertiser) and the government have kept any critical sound about nuclear power out of the Polish media, whereas information from the few academics that started this push, mainly from the nuclear research centre in Swierc, is spread widely. The Mielno referendum and Choczewo public meeting started to bring some change in that, and when Greenpeace nuclear campaigner Jan Haverkamp applied for the position of CEO of PGE Nuclear Energy SA shortly after, some critical arguments also started appearing in the business press. On the question whether his application was a joke, his response that he considers seriously to take the job and close down this wing of PGE, and that the plans from PGE to build a nuclear power station are the real joke, was widely quoted.
The transboundary public procedure for the nuclear energy programme delivered in the mean time over 60.000 submissions from Germany alone – many of them over an on-line tool from the Umweltinstitut in Munich and the BUND in Brandenburg. Because of the new site choice of Ganski, the final deadline for submissions in the transboundary procedure was 27 February 2012, and the Ministries of Environment and Economy in Poland now have to take all submissions from the past year “into due account”.
In that light, the recent remarks from Tusk confirm fears that Poland lacks the sincerity to do so. And the creativity and competence to look beyond large scale centralised electricity production – the kind of thinking it is used to with its heavy dependence on coal. Poland is for the survival of the nuclear industry next to the UK and the Czech Republic (or rather, the CEZ Republic) one of the three front states in Europe, and because of its lack of experience, the easiest to manipulate.
The Mielno referendum and the Battle for Choczewo signal, however, a turning of tides of some kind. When these small starts of public opposition will spread further along the coast, there is a good chance that the bad economics of nuclear, combined with public resistance can turn Poland around and prevent another nuclear ruin on the Baltic shores.
Source and contact: Greenpeace Poland, Iwo Los
Greenpeace Central Europe, Jan Haverkamp