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Interview

Poland minister seeks Japanese partners for nuclear project

Coal-dependent country to build six plants by 2040 to curb carbon output

Michal Kurtyka, Poland's environment minister, says cooperation with Japan on a new generation of nuclear reactors is deepening. (Source photos by Kosaku Mimura and AFP/Jiji)

TOKYO -- Polish Climate and Environment Minister Michal Kurtyka says Japanese companies are "the most innovative and technologically advanced" in the world when it comes to nuclear power and stressed the possibilities for Japanese participation in Poland's first nuclear power project.

Kurtyka spoke with Nikkei in an online interview.

Poland's environment ministry announced in September plans to spend $40 billion to build six nuclear reactors by 2040. The country has no nuclear power plants at present. The first reactor is scheduled to go online in 2033, with construction of the other five to run through 2040. The plan calls for the six plants to provide 6 GW to 9 GW of generating capacity.

Nuclear power emits no carbon, although critics fault it on economic and safety grounds, particularly after the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.

But with the world moving more quickly away from fossil fuels, Poland, Europe's biggest coal producer, hopes to decarbonize and ensure its energy security through nuclear power. Poland relies on coal for about 80% of its power supply at present. The country is also heavily dependent on Russian gas.

Kurtyka said the nuclear project will present "lots of new possibilities [for] cooperation between Japanese and Polish companies."

In October, Poland and the U.S. Department of Energy struck an agreement that involves an $18 billion transfer of nuclear technology from a U.S. company for Poland's reactors. However, the details of the deal are not clear, and Japanese companies may also take part.

Exports of nuclear power plants were a key part of the Japanese government's growth strategy during the previous government of Shinzo Abe. But those plans evaporated after Hitachi announced in September that was pulling out of a project in the U.K.

Separate from the six reactors, Kurtyka indicated that Poland plans to work with Japan on next-generation nuclear reactors called high-temperature gas-cooled reactors. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency announced in September last year that it will work with Poland on reactor design and human resource development related to HTGR.

Poland expects to build a research HTGR in the 2020s, and a commercial reactor in the 2030s. The Polish and Japanese governments are working toward an agreement on the next-generation reactor, Kurtyka said, adding that they intend to deepen their cooperation as they move toward commercialization.

He also expressed hope for stronger cooperation with Japan in offshore wind power. Poland plans to increase the share of renewable energy in its total electricity consumption to 21% by 2030.

The Baltic Sea, to the country's north, is known for its windy climate. Kurtyka said, "Japanese companies also are very strong in this value chain, including the wind turbines, which is the most advanced, but also the most valuable component of offshore wind."

The European Union agreed in December last year to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. Because of its heavy dependence on coal for electricity, Poland was the only EU country not to take part in the agreement. Kurtyka said Poland is "creating conditions and moving forward in order to contribute positively to these agreed targets for 2050."

But, he added, the transition would be "a much bigger challenge than, for example, for our French colleagues, where 75% of [the total electricity] is already provided by nuclear," and he called on the EU to provide financial support to address employment issues as the coal industry shrinks.

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