Polish nuclear programme and the protests against it

August 2011
Shortly after the end of 1990 moratorium the Polish pro–nuclear lobby, based around National Atomic Energy Agency (state institution of nuclear safety) and academic institutions involved in development of nuclear technologies, supported by international nuclear lobby has started to work on the new plans of building the nuclear power plants in Poland.

1984 – 1990: Autonomous movement stops the construction of Zarnowiec NPP

In the early Seventies the Polish government decided to build two nuclear power plants, based on Soviet technology ( with four pressurized water reactors VVER 440 each – similar to ones in Temelin NPP in Czech Republic and Kozloduj in Bulgaria, build by a Skoda plants in Czech Rep.) in Zarnowiec and Klempicz. The construction of Zarnowiec plant started in 1982 in the midst of the economic breakdown and political repressions of the Martial Law.

The first protests against Zarnowiec NPP, organized by academic ecological groups, started in 1984, but to no avail. It was only after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster when the opposition against the plant gained momentum and public support.

Soon after the loose coalition of anarchist and green activist with a group of young members of various anti–government political groups (including then illegal Solidarity), and Catholic Youth activists has emerged and started to organize own street protests and propaganda in various cities across the country.

In early 1989 the protest movement, still informal and based on a non–hierarchical agenda, started to organize weekly street marches in Gdansk, a city 50 kilometres from the site of Zarnowiec NPP, as well as similar actions in Warsaw, during the government session on the nuclear programme.

The anti–nuclear movement grew stronger and stronger, with new groups and organizations joining the protests. In the political turmoil of 1989 the protest against the Zarnowiec NPP was seen as protest against the crumbling dictature of the communist party, so many participants have joined the street demos for pure political reasons – but the movement itself kept its apolitical character. Soon, even for the majority of nuclear scientists involved in the project it became apparent that the soviet technology used in the plant is unreliable and obsolete, and the safety and technological standards at the construction site are appalling (according to Jany Waluszko, one of the anarchist activists involved in protests, during the construction of Zarnowiec NPP around 300 000 tons of cement was stolen from the site – deficit at a time construction materials stolen from the site soon become major source of income both for the workers and the local dwellers. As a result, during harsh winter made of reinforced concrete foundation of one of the reactors has cracked, due to the very low content of cement in the concrete – replacing stolen cement with a sand in the mixers was a common way of concealing the theft…).

During the Round Table negotiations between Solidarity and the communist party in spring 1989 the Solidarity demanded the construction of Zarnowiec to be abandoned – as the result the question of nuclear programme was the only one not agreed in the process but, when Solidarity took over the power in August 1989 the Mazowiecki government refuse to authorize such a decision. It led to the further escalation of protests – with a hunger strike, occupation of local government buildings in Gdansk and a three months blockade of the Gdynia harbour, where the parts of the nuclear reactor were delivered (against the own government position, rank and file organization of Solidarity in the harbour refused to unload the reactor from the ship and call for a referendum on the nuclear programme).

After three months stand-off, the reactor was unloaded by the Zarnowiec NPP workers and the blockade of the harbour was broken, but faced with the ever growing opposition from protest movement and rank and file members of Solidarity (a call for referendum was soon supported by 110 factory comities of S. in Gdansk region and large group of MPs representing the Citizens Comities – political arm of Solidarity) the government was forced to suspend construction of Zarnowiec NPP for one year, at the beginning of 1990.

Such a decision didn’t calm down the protests: the group of activists continued an indefinite hunger strike in Gdansk, started on 8 of Dec, 1989, and growing numbers of local organizations calling for a referendum. Such a social referendum, organized solely by local structures of Citizens Comities and the protest movement activists was announced on 25 of Jan. 1990 and held in Gdansk region, against the will of the Warsaw government, on 27 of May (prime minister Mazowiecki called the referendum “undemocratic” and refused any material support to it!). In major organizational effort the protest movement printed and distributed almost two millions of ballot papers, and organized polling stations across the region. As a result, it achieved the turnout of 44%, with 87% of votes against the NPP and 13% in support of it.

The government initially refused to accept the results, but faced with growing opposition from local communities (virtually blocking the construction site with farming equipment and tractors), the governments of other Baltic countries (afraid of the plant, based on soviet safety standards) and serious economic difficulties was forced to abandon the construction of Zarnowiec NPP on 4 of Sept. 1990. This decision was later (9 of Nov.) confirmed by a bill passed through the parliament: it also imposed the 15 years moratorium on new nuclear programmes and demanded a national referendum to authorize it. (the referendum has never been held and the work on new nuclear programme started in 2005).

2005 – 2011: Second nuclear programme

Shortly after the end of 1990 moratorium the Polish pro–nuclear lobby, based around National Atomic Energy Agency (state institution of nuclear safety) and academic institutions involved in development of nuclear technologies, supported by the international nuclear lobby has started to work on the new plans of building the nuclear power plants in Poland.

After the 2007 elections, won by the neoliberal Civic Platform, this plans got support from the Ministry of Economy, and on 10 of November 2009 became a part of National Energy Policy 2030. Half a year earlier, on 15 of May 2009 Hanna Trojanowska was appointed as a Government Commissioner for Nuclear Energy (in 1982 – 1991 Trojanowska worked as a designer of first Zarnowiec NPP, and later held senior managerial positions in state – owned PGE energy corporation – soon chosen as an operator of future Polish NPPs…).

Since her appointment the government and the nuclear lobby, linked now on personal level, have worked hand in hand towards the development of nuclear programme: on 16 of August 2010 official Program of Development of Nuclear Energy was adopted by the government, and by the end of March 2011 governmental projects of thirst two bills on nuclear energy: the amendment of Nuclear Energy bill (dated back to mid–80s) and the Bill on Investment in Nuclear Energy where submitted to the parliament. At the same time the Ministry of Economy published the assessment of 27 sites around the country, considered as a potential location of the NPP, with Zarnowiec as a winner an Klempicz (a village in North West of Poland, around 60 kilometers north of the city of Poznan) as a runner up.

In May 2011 the governmental plan of the pro-nuclear propaganda campaign (including nuclear ‘product placement’ in popular TV series) has leaked to independent media, but was completely ignored by the mainstream ones. The cost of the campaign was estimated by its authors at around 20 milion euros, paid with taxpayers money.

By the end of June both chambers of the parliament has passed the ‘nuclear’ bills, submitted by the government, and from 1 of July both acts has come into force – without any public discussion or attention and any major amendments.

According to the governmental plan, by the year 2030 demand for electric power in Poland will increase by 30% comparing to 2010, and by 2020, due to the limits on emission of carbon dioxide imposed by EU, higher costs of emission rights and a necessity of introduction costly technologies limiting the emission of greenhouse gasses (like CCS) in thermal power plants the cost of production of energy in NPP’s will be comparable to the power plants using lignite as a fuel. In response to this challenges by 2030 more than 15% of electric energy should by produced by NPP’s.

To meet this demand, the government is planning to build two nuclear power plants, first one by 2020 and second by 2030. The governmental sources varies, when it comes to the power rating of the planned plants, with initial plans suggesting that each plant will produce around 4400 MW (in four 1100MW class reactors). This was later (in 2010) downgraded by commissioner Trojanowska to around 3000MW each (yet again, other officials of Ministry of Economy opt for 3600MW, produced by two 1800MW class reactors). Considering the power output of modern reactors, it’s likely that the final rating will be 3200MW a plant. The total cost of building this capacity is estimated by Trojanowska at 20 bilion Euros (this estimation is based on 4400MW variant – the Ministry of Economy is estimating the cost of building the nuclear plant at 4500 Euros for 1kW, which makes 16 bilion for a 3600MW plant and 32 bilion for a whole program). The cost of building the plants will be beared by the investor and operator of the plants – state-owned PGE (Polska Grupa Energetyczna – Polish Energy Group) power corporation. The direct public involvement in nuclear programme is to be limited to around 18 milion Euros over next ten years, that include establishing the modern nuclear safety service and construction of large scale nuclear waste storage.

The government plan doesn’t mention the location of the storage facility, as well as the preferred technology of storage (with classic nuclear waste damp site and more sophisticated nuclear recycling plants considered). Asked about it by the journalists, Trojanowska has avoided direct answer and promised, that by the 2011 (half a year after the nuclear programme itself!!!) the plan for dealing with nuclear waste produced by the plants will be adopted. As for August 2011, no such plan was ever published.

Regardless of it, the Ministry of Economy has published the shortlist of three Generation III+ reactors, considered for Polish NPP’s. This include:

Westinghouse AP1000 – for a 4400MW a plant variant, and probably it’s upgraded version, CAP1700, for a 3200MW variant. The design was never tested in practice, with the first reactor to become operational in China in 2014, yet it has already risen the safety concerns, both from the nuclear safety authorities in USA (external shield suspected to be vunerable to terrorist attack and earthquakes) and UK (original design rejected due to a faulty design of valves in cooling system and, once again – design of the external shield) and environmental groups (design of containment vessel prone to corrosion and leaks).

Areva/EDF/Siemens EPR - rated at 1650MW for a 3200MW variant. None of EPR reactors operational as for 2011, four in construction in Europe (2 in Finland and 2 in France) – due to serious design faults the original EPR projects were to be altered during the construction causing over two years delay and rise in cost. Safety concerns by Finnish and French nuclear safety authorities, UK one rejected a design after finding serious faults in safety systems design (the main and emergency control systems are interconnected so the fault in main one might disable the emergency controls as well).

Hitachi/GE ESBWR – boiling water reactor with innovative, but never tested in practice, passive cooling systems. Rated at 1600MW, never build, is expected to be granted US nuclear safety authority approval by the end of 2011. Considered for new NPP in Lithuania.

As the governmental nuclear programme was made public, it was criticized both by environmental organization and by some leading scientists in the field of energy production. Professor Wladyslaw Mielczarski from the Technical University in Lodz, Poland, one of most senior experts in this field in the country and EU, denounces the basic thesis of the nuclear program as unrealistic, he’s also questioning the governmental estimations on consumption of electric power, costs of building of NPP and producing energy in such a plants. According to Mielczarski, in contrary to nuclear program figures, the demand for electric power in Poland might increase by no more than 10% by 2030, but just as well it might remain on the 2010 level or drop, due to the higher costs of energy and introduction of less power – consuming technologies. This put the need for building of NPP in question. Professor also stresses the need of building a new gas or coal power station together with NPP, to create a necessary backup power supply in case of reactor shutdown and sudden drop in power production.

Mielczarski strongly criticizes the financial estimations of the government, according to professor:

- the cost of building the NPP estimated in government program is far too low, especially after necessary alternations to reactor design after Fukushima disaster

- as a consequence, the cost of production of power in NPP in year 2020 will be around 60% higher than in thermal plants, even if the CO2 emission fees goes up as planned

- governmental claims that the construction of the NPP will be financed by a private sources are completely unrealistic, as the chosen investor, PGE corporation, can only borrow around 4 billion Euros of capital, and the estimated cost of nuclear program is 8 times higher

From the environmental and social point of view, it’s worth to cite the report of Jan Haverkamp, the energy expert from the Netherlands who prepared the assessment of governmental Strategic Environmental Assessment of the nuclear program. According to Haverkamp, the whole document, consisting of more than 785 pages was prepared in less than one month, and doesn’t meet the international standards of professionalism for such a documents. Many of it’s content was simply copy-pasted from outdated brochures, issued by nuclear corporation, without citing the source(!!!). Assessment of the spread of nuclear contamination in case of accident was taken from a similar document, prepared for one of the NPP in UK (!!!), without any research actually being done in Poland. The document doesn’t deal at all with potential consequences of major nuclear accident or radiation leak, on the scale of Fukushima or Chernobyl, basically treating such an event as impossible. Havercamp also points out that the whole document and a procedure of its public consultation breach the rules set by Aarchus Convention on public participation in decision – making, signed by Poland: it doesn’t include any alternatives to the proposed construction of NPP and a time, set by the government for its public consultation is insufficient (21 days!).

The public perception of the nuclear programme and the support for nuclear energy changed significantly after Fukushima. According to the polls., the support for the programme has dropped from 50% in September 2009 to 40% in April 2011 (when the scale of Fukushima disaster was yet unknown).

Together with a public preferences, the policy of the government and nuclear lobby has changed as well. At the beginning of 2011, when the official introduction of the nuclear programme to the public opinion was being made, there was a strong presence both of pro-nuclear politicians and scientist from the nuclear lobby in the media, even by the time of Fukushima disaster they were still trying to defend both the programme and nuclear energy.

After Fukushima, and the initial wave of protests after it, the nuclear propaganda and the whole issue of nuclear energy disappeared from the media – pressed by the journalists or activists the politicians claim, that the whole issue is not decided yet and the further researches and discussions are needed.

Contrary to this official line, the government carries on with a programme – away from public attention two nuclear bills were hurried through parliament in one month, with no serious discussions or opposition, two months before parliamentary elections.

As far as mainstream politics is concerned, there is no serious opposition to nuclear programme, with ruling neoliberals (Civic Platform) strongly in favour of it, its allies from Popular Party officially talking about a ‘need for discussion’ and in private supporting the program, and Social Democrats calling for national referendum on nuclear energy. The right wing opposition, the Law and Order party, doesn’t present a clear stance regarding the nuclear programme. It was to be added, that as well as in many important issues in polish politics, all the mayor parties are trying to avoid a public discussion and public involvement in decision making, focusing the public attention on ideological, personal or historical conflicts instead. Because of it the nuclear programme and building the NPP is not likely to became a major point of discussion during the coming election campaign.

As for the non-parliamentary organizations, the whole environmental movement (with polish Green party – marginal in the mainstream politics), the anarchists, and a independent trade union Sierpien’80 (consisting of 10000 members – mainly coal miners…) are strongly against the nuclear programme.

On a street protest level, until 2011 the major protest group was Inicjatywa Antynuklearna (Anti–Nuclear Initiative), the coalition of grassroots environmental activists, concerned scientist and anarchists. The IAN split in early 2011 over the issue of tactics and cooperation with political parties and mainstream NGOs, and since then the Anarchist Federation started it’s own, anti–nuclear campaign.

Anarchist Federation against nuclear power

The beginning of 2011 marks the start of anti-nuclear campaign of AF – PL. The statement on that issue, adopted by the sections of FA ( http://www.federacja-anarchistyczna.pl/dokumenty/item/5-oświadczenie-fa-w-sprawie-rozwoju-w-polsce-energetyki-nuklearnej) focuses on economical and social costs of nuclear program, it also denounces the construction of NPP as a transfer of public resources to transnational corporation providing the nuclear technology. The further developments in nuclear issue unveiled the deeply undemocratic character of decision – making, with the government openly ignoring own obligations regarding public consultation of the program and avoiding and discussion on the nuclear power question. This was reflected and condemned in further statements and leaflets, issued by various local sections of AF and during the street protests organized by them – in future, this will also be the focal point of our campaign.

So far on the street level there were two major AF mobilizations against nuclear programme and a couple of local events:

- shortly after the Fukushima disaster, on 19 of March there was a demonstration against building NPP in Lodz, and similar one, two days later in Gdansk (second one was organized by broader coalition, called Pomorska Inicjatywa Antynuklearna – Pomeranian AntiNuclear Initiative)

- the 25 anniversary of Chernobyl disaster was marked with a demonstrations and public meetings in Lodz, Poznan, Gdansk, Krakow, and Czestochowa, all organized or co-organized by local AF structures

- on 8 of May in Lodz a group of anarchists disrupted a meeting with deputy prime minister W. Pawlak at the technical university unfurling the banner against nuclear energy

- on 18 of May, during the conference on nuclear power held as a part of European Economic Forum in Katowice there was a demonstration against the nuclear power organized by Silesian activists of AF

As a part of a campaign, a brochure on the nuclear energy issues will be printed, there will be also a lecture and workshops on that topic during this year summer AF-PL camp in Beskid Makowski, starting 14 of August.

Web site of Anarchist Federation of Poland:
contact: biurofa@gmail.com