Why Poland needs nuclear power?

Popularizing lecture  
Speaker and affiliation: 
Professor Andrzej Strupczewski (NCBJ)
Tue, 2017-03-14 11:30
Room 207 in the Świerk Science & Technology Park building

It is predicted that current consumption of electric energy in Poland (160 TWh per year) will rise by 30% before 2030. Domestic resources of fossil fuel (coal and lignite) are running short and coal must be mined from more and more difficult to explore deposits, which means its price must increase and/or volume of imports from abroad must increase. It may well happen that all Polish coal-fired power plants will not be able to meet the demand after 2030. Besides, CO2 emission restrictions are pushing up price of electricity produced in such plants. New electricity sources will soon be needed to cover the gap: either nuclear power plants (NPPs) or renewable sources (RES).

Advantages of nuclear power are well known: clean environment, cheap energy and preservation of coal deposits for other purposes. International organizations unanimously indicate nuclear power as the best low-emission source of electric energy. Performance records show that NPPs are good neighbours, radiation generated in them generally does not pose any hazard for people. Even the Fukushima disaster (the most severe accident in Japan history caused by an earthquake followed by an exceptionally high tsunami) have not directly caused any loss of life or deterioration of health. 3rd generation power plants to be deployed in Poland are designed to survive even such catastrophes.

Can we avoid nuclear power and rely on wind farms and solar panels alone? The experience acquired in Germany suggests that the answer is NO. Wind/solar sources in Germany may be unproductive up to five consecutive days and nights; weather conditions in Poland are similar. Capacity of all Polish pumped storage plants would be enough to cover the demand for about 4.5 hours, capacity of all electric cars to be introduced on the Polish market before 2030 – for another 4 hours. However, 5 days and nights is equal to 120 hours. What next after the 8.5 hours? Import of RES-produced energy from neighbouring countries is no solution since wind is usually either simultaneously blowing or not blowing across large areas.

If RES sources supply a significant fraction of power to the national power grid, other than pumped storage back-up capacity is needed. But it can be costly as shown by many OECD analyses and confirmed by the fact that Germans subsidize their RES with €26 billion each year. That is not going to change. Facts are inevitable: due to intermittent availability of wind and sunshine, in 2016 German wind farms produced electricity only at 17.8% of their combined rated capacity (“capacity factor”), German solar panels – only at 10.5% of their capacity.

As shown by German and French experience, NPPs may well be operated in the “keep up with the demand” system. Ability to run that way have been designed into all 3rd generation reactors. Capacity factors for NPPs are much higher than those for RES sources, for example combined factor for all units deployed in US NPPs is on the average above 90%. Operating costs are competitive in comparison with RES sources: 22 USD/MWh produced in a typical NPP (including cost of nuclear fuel and radioactive waste management), 20 USD/MWh produced in a typical wind farm situated on land, 30-50 USD/MWh produced in a typical wind farm situated on the sea. 

NCBJ have summed up all costs borne by a society to produce electric energy. Plant operator costs, costs borne by national power grid operator to back up RES power sources for the case wind does not blow and/or to back-up other sources in case of plant failure, cost of healthcare/environment protection against losses/damages attributable to coal mining and/or emissions from coal-fired plants, and total costs of the fuel cycle have been included. If practical capacity factors are taken into account, it turns out that investment outlays per unit energy produced within plant lifecycle are much higher for RES sources than for NPPs – in spite of the common opinion about “cheap wind farms”. Overall costs of electric energy produced in NPPs are competitive, because fuel and healthcare costs influence so much respective costs in coal-fired plants, while costs of securing proper cooperation with the national power grid influence so much respective costs in case of RES sources.

Both high subsidies for RES paid by the Germans and comparison of electricity bills paid by individual consumers in various EU countries are in line with outcomes of the above analysis. €26 billion a year paid additionally for RES in Germany (about 80 million inhabitants) means that an average 4-member family must pay additionally  €1,300 euro a year. The concluding question is: will Poles elect to pay additional 6,000 zł a year per average 4-member family for electricity from wind farms and solar panels, or else will they rather elect to develop NPPs in the country?

File ncbj_strupczewski.docx16.73 KB
PDF icon ncbj_strupczewski.pdf33.74 KB