al maiorino

Nuclear Energy Will Need Public Support to Gain Steam

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In February of 2021, the Polish government approved the Polityka Energetczna Polski (PEP) strategy which aims to produce 6000-9000MWe of nuclear capacity by 2043, in order to decrease their dependence on black coal. The strategy includes the production of six nuclear plants, all based on pressurized water nuclear reactors of Generation III and III+ designs. With the first nuclear reactor set to begin operation in 2033, Warsaw’s 2040 energy plan expects to reduce their dependence on coal-fired power generation to 50%, in contrast from about 80% today. However, the efforts to move towards zero-carbon emission renewables has stirred some controversy and public pushback. 
Nuclear Energy Will Need Public Support to Gain Steam
Image by Markus Distelrath from Pixabay

The government is reluctant to cease coal mining, as over 100,000 jobs depend on the black coal sector- this has caused riots and protests at the hands of employees. In addition, Poland is set to experience a shortage of natural gas after their agreement with Russia expires at the end of 2022.

The agreement will not be renewed due to political tensions, and with Trump out of the picture for funding, Poland is in search of allies and resources. While the CEO of Electricite de France (EDF) proposed to fund two-thirds of the project, it is still the most expensive option and energy experts claim that the strategy goes against the trend in the EU to move towards renewable energy.

Additional concerns stem from the German government, who worry that the plan could pose a risk to the population as they are only a few hundred kilometers in proximity to Poland. The government wants to be kept in the loop about future plans that could affect densely populated cities such as Berlin. 

"There is a 20% probability that Germany would be affected by an accident at the planned nuclear power plant," said the chairwoman of the Bundestag Committee on the Environment, Ursula Kotting-Uhl. "In the worst-case scenario, 1.8 million Germans would be exposed to radiation of over 20 millisieverts. At that level, we would have to start evacuating. Berlin and Hamburg could be affected, which are densely populated.

"While Poland has conducted an environmental impact assessment, the German government claimed that it was “incomprehensible and unacceptable.”

Since the construction of the first plant is set to begin in Zarnowiec which lies 150 kilometers from the German border, their government has added that the states have an internationally-binding right to be made aware of any impactful decisions on Polish affairs or environment.

Another country pursuing similar nuclear endeavors is South Africa, whose goal is to renovate their sole nuclear power plant in Koeberg which has been connected to the grid since 1984. The 2,500 MWe Nuclear New Programme received approval from the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) last month, and is set to build six replacement steam generators at the Eskom two-reactor plant by 2030. 

The 1.2 billion (R20bn) plant is expected to begin operation during a planned power outage in January of 2022. Similar to Poland, South Africa’s goal is to move away from their dependence on black-coal in order to meet the growing demand for electricity. In order to issue the procurement of the new nuclear capacity by 2024, the government will be issuing a “request for proposal” between 2021-2022. 

However, despite South Africa’s current demand for electricity, there have been some concerns about moving away from coal and into nuclear, as opposed to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. While nuclear power is a reliable source of low carbon energy, critics fear that the government has not taken the scale of the project into account. Not only would the project require expensive construction materials and labor, but it would also have a significant environmental impact from nuclear waste and the need to mine uranium. 

Critics and anti-nuclear lobbyists have urged the government to focus on their electricity supply plan which would yield 33GW of renewable electric power by 2030. They claim that there is inherent corruption in the 2,500 MWe New Nuclear Programme due to self-commercial interest players that favor specific technologies that disregard the benefits of others, such as smaller, modular nuclear reactors.

A potential solution to the controversy would be to build small modular reactors (SMR’s,) which are about the third of the size of traditional nuclear plant. Rather than importing pieces, SMR parts can be manufactured in a factory which would take up less construction time as well as money.

Due to the scale of SMR’s, many sites that would not be suitable for larger reactors would be on the table, allowing for further flexibility. In addition, they can be used to fuel local areas that do not have poor access to electricity and water access. Another potential solution would be to invest in renewable sources such as hydropower, wind and solar, as opposed to drastically shifting over to nuclear. In considering the use of SMR’s and integrating additional renewables into the energy mix, the public may be able to empathize with zero-carbon emission endeavors. 

Regardless, nuclear needs more overarching plans to build public acceptance and support.  Each project is different, however the concept is often similar.

Al Maiorino started Public Strategy Group, Inc. in 1995. His firm has developed and managed multiple corporate public affairs campaigns in a variety of industries such as gaming, cable television, retail development, auto racing, renewable energy and residential projects. Additionally, his firm has worked on projects in twenty-seven states and three countries.


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