Part of Poland’s nuclear plans in question after negative assessment by security agency

Part of Poland’s plans to develop nuclear power has been thrown into doubt after the Internal Security Agency (ABW) issued a negative opinion on planned investment in small modular reactors (SMRs) by a state-linked firm.

Orlen Synthos Green Energy (OSGE) – a joint venture between state energy giant Orlen and Sythos, a chemical company owned by one of Poland’s wealthiest men, Michał Sołowow – has been developing plans to build over 70 SMRs around Poland in partnership with a group of US and Canadian corporations.

A group of US, Canadian and Polish corporations have signed an agreement in Washington to invest $400 million in jointly developing small modular nuclear reactors, some of which will be built in Poland by state energy firm Orlen

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 24, 2023

However, earlier this week, the Polityka weekly reported that the ABW – Poland’s domestic counterintelligence and security agency – had issued a negative opinion on the plans. The climate ministry is required to obtain the ABW’s opinion as part of its assessment of the nuclear project.

The ABW’s opinion is not binding, but a negative assessment makes it unlikely the climate ministry would approve the SMR plans, reports industry news service Energetyka24.

On Thursday, OSGE confirmed that the ABW had issued a negative opinion by issuing a statement in which it strongly objected to the agency’s assessment.

Oświadczenie Spółki OSGE:

Poziom emisji CO2 w Polsce wyniósł dzisiaj 928g/kWh i jest najwyższy w Europie oraz jeden z najwyższych na świecie. W latach 2018–2022 r. najwięksi producenci energii elektrycznej w Polsce – Polska Grupa Energetyczna, Tauron, Enea, Energa oraz ZE PAK…

— ORLEN Synthos Green Energy (@ORLEN_Synthos) December 7, 2023

The company accused the ABW of being “incompetent and irresponsible” in the context of Poland’s increasingly urgent need for an energy transition away from coal. It also called for the agency’s reasoning for its decision to be declassified.

“In the course of more than 230 days of proceedings, the ABW did not once meet with either the applicant, OSGE, the technology supplier, the US-based GE-Hitachi, or see the data on the proposed locations,” wrote the company in a statement.

“We do not know on what basis the ABW issued its opinions,” added the firm, which said that its requests to declassify the ABW’s reasons for its opinion had been rejected and that it would pursue the case further in court. “We are convinced that these are neither substantive nor professional reasons.”

Two US government agencies have signed letters of intent to provide $4bn in financing for nuclear small modular reactors in Poland.

They will help „protect from Russian influence, meet climate commitments and drive economic development”, says @USAmbPoland

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 17, 2023

However, those accusations and demands were rejected by Mariusz Kamiński, who until last week served as interior minister and coordinator of the security services in Poland’s outgoing government.

“Before issuing an opinion, the agency carries out a multi-element opinion procedure to assess the impact of the indicated investment on the internal security of the state,” Kamiński wrote in a statement.

According to Kamiński, OSCE’s investment “inappropriately secures the interests of the [state] treasury”. But he added that detailed information on this cannot be made public.

“I categorically reject the insinuations and lies of the OSGE company, which tries to manipulate the picture of the ABW’s activities and makes accusations against the agency’s management and the ministers overseeing the [security] services,” he added.

Oświadczenie ⤵️

— Mariusz Kamiński (@Kaminski_M_) December 7, 2023

Further complicating the matter, on Thursday the environment ministry in the outgoing government issued so-called “basic decisions” approving six potential locations for OSGE’s small modular reactions.

Those decisions mean that the ministry finds the plans consistent with the public interest and state policy, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP). However, further stages of approval are needed before the investments can go ahead.

The issue was yesterday commented on by Donald Tusk, the leader of a coalition of opposition groups that are set to form a new government next week.

Tusk said that “this civil war” between state institutions “on such an important issue must raise concern”. He criticised Orlen and the government for ignoring the ABW’s concerns and pushing ahead with the plans, reports PAP.

Tusk twardo o Orlenie. Padła zapowiedź ws. SMR-ów

— (@Money_pl) December 8, 2023

As well as plans for SMRs – which are a new technology that has not yet been deployed commercially anywhere in the world – the outgoing Polish government has also pursued investment in more traditional nuclear power plants with American and Korean partners.

Tusk – who will serve as prime minister in the incoming government – has said that he also believes “nuclear power plants are necessary” in Poland. However, he has also said that his new administration will review all of the plans being implemented by its predecessor.

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Main image credit: OSGE

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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