Pro-nuclear propaganda with no counter-arguments

Poland's experience with nuclear energy, although not particularly extensive, is nevertheless interesting. The first small experimental reactors were turned on over fifty years ago in Świerk near Warsaw. They served as a training ground for an emerging body of national nuclear energy specialists. The government of the Polish People's Republic had set its sights on the significant development of this field in our country. After years of preparations, the decision to build the first nuclear power station in Poland was taken. This happened in 1982 - just after the imposition of martial law and a temporary stifling of the Solidarity movement. At this point, the most progressive members of society were to be found either in prison or in internment camps. The aforementioned undertaking was not, needless to say, accompanied by any form of public discussion, and especially not an open, civic debate. It is then not surprising that the technology chosen to carry out the venture was of Soviet origin. An area located around 40km from Gdańsk by the Żarnowieckie Lake was allotted to the project. The construction itself did not attract the attention of Poles, and so initially it did not raise widespread objections or opposition. The situation changed dramatically following the 1986 disaster in Chernobyl, today on Ukrainian territory. This event caused general panic among Polish citizens, and the initial lack of reliable information disorientated them and intensified their mistrust towards government. The first reports to appear in the mass media trivialised the disaster, and it was not until several days later that practical advice and recommendations regarding radioactivity counter-measures were issued. A preventative campaign to administer iodine in the form of Lugol’s liquid was hurriedly organised.

The crisis situation exposed the then government's tendency to conceal inconvenient truths. Polish nuclear energy experts systematically downplayed the extent of the catastrophe, aided by the state-controlled media.   

Public protests in the shadow of Chernobyl

Despite all this, the Chernobyl disaster sparked off public protests. Those organised by the pacifist-environmentalist opposition movement "Freedom and Peace" were the most spectacular and decisive. Illegal street demonstrations promoted by Western media and Polish radio stations took place around the country, in Wrocław, Kraków, Gdańsk and Poznań among other places. Resistance, supported by catholic priests and independent scientists alike, was resolute. It consisted in opposition activists distributing illegal information regarding nuclear energy risks, for example. Protests were aimed not only at the construction of a power station in Żarnowiec, but also at similar projects in Klempicz near Poznań, Darłów and Lublin. A strong public protest movement was organised in Wielkopolska region against the storage of nuclear waste in bunkers at the Międzyrzecki Fortified Zone.

Following the fall of communism, the government of prime minister Mazowiecki, with the active involvement of economy minister Tadeusz Syryjczyk, halted the construction of the nuclear power plant in Żarnowiec. Other plans for the development of nuclear power in Poland were also abandoned. The government's withdrawal was prompted not only by its recognition of the associated risks, but also by the high costs involved and the absence of a major need for this type of energy in a restructured economy.

Poland's energy policy for 2030 - nuclear back on the agenda

In the autumn of 2008 prime minister Donald Tusk announced that the construction of nuclear power plants in Poland is a necessity. In January 2009 a plenipotentiary was appointed for the development of nuclear energy. The government expects the first nuclear power station to be in operation by 2020, and the second two years later. The Polish Energy Group (PGE), a large state corporation, is to oversee the investment. The group is expected to take a 51% share in the consortium responsible for the construction and operation of the power plant. Over the period from 2011 to the end of 2013, PGE will choose the final location. The consortium itself should be created by the end of 2010, and construction should begin by 2016.

Full text in English.