December 1, 2022

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A nuclear power plant will combat smog?  The Atomicki family is misleading

A nuclear power plant will combat smog? The Atomicki family is misleading

The government has announced that three nuclear power plants will be built in Poland over the next ten years or so. The first building with the American Westinghouse will be built in the town of Choczewo in Pomerania. Works are due to start in 2026. The second nuclear power plant is a private project, although supported by the government, ZE-PAK, which is owned by Zygmunt Solorz. It will be built on the site of a lignite-burning power plant in Konin. The third power plant is the latest announcement by State Assets Minister Jacek Sasin. We don’t know the details – apart from the fact that it’s in the plans -.

The government also requested a poll, the results of which were praised by the media: 80 percent of respondents support nuclear power.

Convince the Atomicki family with corn

For now, government announcements are still just ads. As experts assure, until the contract for the actual implementation of the project is signed, we cannot attach any specific deadlines. “Obviously the previous decisions are some steps towards this goal, but as long as we do not have a binding contract with the contractor, it is difficult to judge the deadlines. Signing the contract by the end of this year would make it possible to meet that deadline”- Speak at OKO.press Adam Ragowski, a nuclear energy expert from Warsaw University of Technology.

However, the government has already launched a social campaign to show those who are not completely convinced that Poland needs a power plant, and that nuclear power is safe, clean and climate friendly. The main figures in the campaign conducted by the Ministry of Climate and Environment are the “Atomiki family”.

within atomic We have Marcin’s father, a nuclear engineer and academic lecturer, Agata’s mother, a physician in the isotope therapy department, 16-year-old Anya concerned about climate change, her brother Antik, passionate about science and technological innovation, and a dog named: Neutronic.

Nuclear blocks and anti-smog

A family of four “will talk, through knowledge, experience, environment, innovation and a little bit of humor, about nuclear energy in the campaign of the Ministry of Climate and Environment” – we read on the government’s website. In radio and TV commercials, atomic scientists talk about the benefits of a nuclear power plant, explain how a power plant works, explain what happens to nuclear waste, and debunk the myths surrounding nuclear power.

In a radio ad, Antik boasts that he got six for a “nuclear power plant project.” “I explained everything thoroughly, and I think this is the beginning of my scientific career,” he says. “I also talked about the benefits, a lot of independence regardless of the weather…” – he continues. His sister adds that the power plant “reduces climate change”.

“And did you talk about health?” – The family controversy does not end because Agata’s mother joins the conversation.

Antek replied: “No emissions of dust and greenhouse gases.”

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“Ah” – dreams of Agata’s mother. “Smog-free life, fewer patients, great!”

But a nuclear power plant will not solve the problem of air pollution. “This is clearly misleading, because the development of nuclear power has no effect on eliminating smog. It is caused by dust emitted from homes, not coal-fired power plants,” the organization commented on Twitter. Wawerski smog.

The nuclear power plant will help solve the smog problem

Ministry of Climate and Environment campaign

Gundremmingen nuclear power plant in southern Germany on February 26, 2021.

falsehood.A nuclear power plant is needed, but for pro-climate activities, not anti-smog activities. In the fight against smog, it will not be of much importance

A nuclear power plant does not emit carbon dioxide…

Antique Atomic is right when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. This was confirmed, inter alia Polish Economic Institute in one of you Weekly magazines:

“In addition to being more profitable, nuclear power plants have zero direct emissions and very low life-cycle emissions (such as component manufacturing, construction process, power plant operation, logistics, demolition, waste disposal) averaging 12 grams of CO2/ kWh According to the IPCC, this is the same as for land-based windmills, which is three times less than that of photovoltaic cells installed on rooftops (41 gCO2/kWh on average) and 61 to 76 times less of coal-burned power generation (740 to 910 gCO2/kWh throughout the life cycle of new coal-fired power plants.”)

Marcin Popkiewicz, nuclear physicist, climate expert and editor of the “Science on Climate” portal in 2019 Analyze it Both “for” and “against” nuclear energy. In his analysis, he emphasized that “the nuclear power plant, during its operation, emits not only greenhouse gases, dust, oxides of sulfur, nitrogen and heavy metals, but also radioactive substances that enter the atmosphere during the normal operation of the nuclear power plant. They have 100 times less activity of radioactive material emitted in fly ash (the uranium and thorium found in coal) during the operation of a coal-fired power plant of similar capacity.”

The power plant, which has been announced by successive governments for years, will be an important investment in the context of the energy transition. We have written about the fact that we need it in Poland several times at OKO.press. “The wind sometimes blows and sometimes it doesn’t. And there are also, especially in winter, the so-called rotting highlands, when the wind blows very weakly for a long time and we have a thick layer of clouds. We cannot store energy for long, and yet we cannot bear the lack of electricity For several days, not to mention weeks, because, figuratively speaking, we will derail civilization ”- said the professor. Szymon Malinowski, an atmospheric physicist from the University of Warsaw.

So we must have a constant and non-emission source of electricity, at least for the most important needs. It just so happens that the only safe and proven source at the moment is nuclear power.”

However, the lack of carbon dioxide and dust emissions from nuclear power units does not mean that after the opening of the power plant, Poland will suddenly breathe fully.

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…but it won’t clean the air

Smog is mostly affected by so-called low emissions, that is, pollution from household chimneys. explain it Polish Smog Alert (PAS):

“The emission of air pollutants in Poland results mainly from heating homes using coal and other solid fuels, often in stoves that do not meet any emission standards. These furnaces not only burn coal waste (sludge and fines), but also ordinary waste, including Plastic. Clay and fine coal are products with a high content of sulfur, chlorine and ash.”

Home stoves leave, among other things, 2.5 PM fine dust harmful to humans. PAS calculates that households account for 78 percent. emission of this dust. Industry comes second – 13%. The energy sector is only 1 percent. PM 2.5 emissions.

List this data in detail National Center for Emissions Management and Balancing. In a report published in 2022, it summarizes the data up to 2020. It shows that PM 2.5 dust emissions have their sources in industrial processes, agriculture, waste, but most of all – 93 percent. – In fuel combustion.

The energy sector, falling into the “fuel combustion” category, is responsible for only 1.39 percent. All fine dust emissions.

Source: KOBiZE

When it comes to PM10 dust, that is, particles whose diameter does not exceed 10 micrometers, energy processes contribute 1.84%. emissions. The energy industry contributes to a lesser extent to the emission of aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), substances that have a carcinogenic effect. It accounts for only 0.12% of the total PAH emissions.

Once again, families are the biggest culprits, contributing 77% of the total. emissions of these substances.

“Węglówki” is harmful – in spite of everything

All this does not mean, however, that power plants (coal – because it is still Poland’s largest source of energy) will not harm the population living in its vicinity. In 2021, HEAL Polska reported that lignite contains more sulfur and ash and has a lower calorific value than hard coal. “Therefore, its combustion in coal-fired power plants generates more air pollutants per megawatt produced” – reads Heal – Heal.

Annual emissions from hard coal and Polish coal power plants contribute to nearly 6000 deaths. The Bełchatów power plant alone contributes to 1270 premature deaths annually (2013 data) ”- the experts wrote.

The smog will disappear, but only in the neighborhood

However, the assertion that a nuclear power plant will remove the smog is not true.

As we’ve already explained at OKO, smog and climate change come from a single source – the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore, by adopting a proper anti-smog policy, it is possible to limit climate warming to some extent. But remember that smog has a local dimension. Greenhouse gas emissions are a global problem. The carbon dioxide emitted by the power plant in Bełchatów contributes to global warming, not only in Poland. Burning old stoves in communes near Krakow are causing smog – but only in the immediate vicinity.

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Therefore, the construction of a nuclear power plant, for example to replace the Bełchatów power plant, will have a positive effect on air quality, but only in its vicinity. It won’t eliminate Polish smog, but it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions – something that is already of global importance.

To eliminate air pollution, the government must first and foremost expedite the replacement of furnaces. In 2018, when the Clean Air Heat Source Replacement Program was launched, it was calculated that there are about 3 million coal-fired furnaces which are the most toxic in Poland. They will all be replaced by 2029. After four years of running the program, we have just over 430,000. Sign contracts to replace the heat source.

Nowa Ruda is at the top of the smog ranking

The fact that smog is primarily the result of low emissions is shown in the latest Smog Leaders Rating, published by crimson. Nowa Ruda (Dolnośląskie Voivodeship) took first place, where last year’s smog exceeded the standards (ie, the daily concentration of PM10 was greater than 50 mcg per cubic meter) for 95 days – almost winter. In terms of the number of smog days, Małopolska Sucha Beskidzka came second with a score of 93. The third place was occupied by Wodzisław Śląski with 87 days, where it was hard to breathe.

Noua Rhoda also “wins” in terms of the highest concentration of PM10 dust. The whole year average is 41 mcg/m3, while the WHO recommends a maximum of 15 mcg/m3. Second place again is Sucha Beskidzka (40 mcg/m3), and third, with an annual score of 39 mcg/m3. Cube – Pszczyna, Wodzisław Śląski (both cities in Śląskie province) and Zgierz (ódzkie Voivodeship).

The list of smog record holders included as many as three spas. These are Rabka Zdrój (Małopolskie Voivodeship), Szczawno-Zdrój (Dolnośląskie Voivodeship) and Goczałkowice-Zdrój (ląskie Voivodeship).

None of these cities are in the immediate vicinity of the power plant.

All content supported by the European Media and Information Fund (EMIF) is the sole responsibility of the authors/authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of EMIF and its partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.

Katarzina Kojzar
Katarzina Kojzar

Graduated from Jagiellonian University and Polish Reportage College. At OKO.press, he mainly deals with topics related to environmental protection, animal rights, climate change and energy.