The type of reactor mentioned by Orlen is in the licensing phase. It is not a ready product that we can buy and put up immediately, explained Rafał Zasun from the Wysokienaciąż portal in an interview with TVN24 Biznes, referring to the seven preliminary locations of BWRX-300 reactors in Poland. In his opinion, the market turned its hopes towards small units, because although they are more expensive, they do not have many of the disadvantages of a large reactor.
Daniel Obajtekpresident of PKN Orlen, said during a conference this week list of seven tentative locationswhere Orlen Synthos Green Energy could build BWRX-300 reactors designed by GE Hitachi. The selected sites are to be subjected to at least two-year research. 7 locations were given, including Ostrołęka, Włocławek and the vicinity of Warsaw.
– We have carried out preliminary research, but geophysical research and social dialogue will be needed for two years – Obajtek said at a press conference.
The large reactor produces electricity, the small one also produces heat
Rafał Zasuń from the Wysokienaciąg portal pointed to one disadvantage of SMRs (Small Modular Reactors), i.e. small modular reactors. The downside is they don’t exist yet. They are still (only) on the drawing boards. The reactor that Orlen is talking about is in the licensing phase. This is not a ready product that we can buy and put right away – he explained in an interview with TVN24 Biznes.
When asked what a small modular reactor is, he replied that theoretically it is no different from a large reactor, except that its production is carried out in one place, modular and then assembled on site like bricks. – Which, of course, greatly simplifies assembly. This makes construction much faster. They are also much simpler to build and take up less space.
He noted that so far modular reactors have not been implemented due to the final price.
– When the costs of building small reactors were calculated, it turned out that they are still more expensive than large ones. Later, however, it turned out that the construction of these large reactors did not go according to plan, for example in Finlandin France or the United States. They started slipping. In Finland, this time was longer by 15 years, in France the reactor was supposed to be commissioned in 2012 and is still under construction today. The budget was exceeded five times. It’s the same in the United States. It is more than 10 years past the deadline, and the budget has tripled, he enumerated.
Competency gap in the market
In his opinion, the reason for this situation is a competence gap. – Reactors were practically not built in the 1990s. There was enough energy in the world, the demand for electricity fell. In the 2000s, their construction was resumed, but the safety criteria were increased, which made the investment more complicated. The people who built reactors in the 70s went for retirement. The new ones couldn’t finish them on time and on budget. Reactors take a long time to build, each change causes an increase in costs – he explained.
For these reasons, “the market turned its hopes towards small reactors, because although they are more expensive, they do not have the disadvantages of a large reactor.”
– They are built in a shorter time, it is easier to plan the budget, and besides, they have the colossal advantage that they can produce heat and technological steam. A large reactor only produces electricity. Small the reactor, if placed next to a factory that needs process steam, can also produce heat. It can also supply heat to the district heating network in Warsaw or Krakow, he pointed out.
He explained that the Russians use much smaller reactors in the Arctic near mineral deposits. – It’s about 5, 10 megawatt reactors. However, this is a different case, because we are talking about exploitation for many years – he noted.
Large reactors are more questionable
According to Rafał Zasuń, most of the companies that built large reactors are now investing in small ones. – Because large reactors raise more doubts, for example because of the money that needs to be spent and risked, because every delay, increase in steel or cement prices causes enormous difficulties – he pointed out.
He reminded that in the 1960s or 1970s, reactors were built by the state, taking responsibility to a large extent for the planning and purchase of materials and raw materials needed for these reactors. What is being created today is happening in more market conditions.
– When France built reactors in the 1990s, there was no energy market and the French could pass on the cost of building these plants to taxpayers and consumers. Today we have an energy market, it is not so easy to transfer the cost of building a nuclear power plant to either the taxpayer or consumers, he noted.
At the same time, he pointed out that the advantage of small modular reactors is that the expenses can be spread over several years. – First, one module is built, which costs EUR 1.5 billion, and not like the large one, where the cost is EUR 50 billion – he said.
When will small reactors appear in Poland?
Rafał Zasun points out that now the question is whether SMRs will appear on the market and prove that they work. – If so, I have no doubt that they will conquer the market and displace large power plants. As long as they show up, he said.
– And they’re still not there. Therefore, what the Canadians, who are the most advanced in licensing modular reactors, are doing is reconnaissance by fire, he added.
According to Zasuń, if the Kandyans succeed, and they have the most experience in operating nuclear reactors, it means that other countries can also succeed.
The head of Orlen, Daniel Obajtek, informed that the first SMR unit could be launched in Poland in 2029.
– I would not attach myself to these dates in Poland, because what will happen in Canada will be decisive. If Canada starts its reactor in 2028, there will be no obstacles to build it in Poland. If it fails, the project will fail. I cannot imagine that there will be no reactors in Canada, but there will be in Poland. This is out of the question, Rafał Zasun said.
Read more: “Reliability of energy supply is at stake”
Main photo source: Rafał Guz/PAP