Are Poland and Hungary ready to invest in the NPP in Kaliningrad?

Potential Polish-Hungarian-Russian cooperation on the completion and subsequent joint operation of the Baltic NPP (nuclear power plant) could solve some of Poland’s energy problems

Expert of the Polish analytical center Polityka Insight Robert Tomashevsky released information that claims to be a sensation. According to him, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and one of the richest Poles, media mogul Zygmunt Solozh-Jacques intend to invest in the completion of the Baltic nuclear power plant in the Kaliningrad region. As a reminder, this project was initiated by Rosatom, the construction start ceremony took place on February 25, 2010. It was assumed that the nuclear power plant, worth 6.23 billion euros, would make the Kaliningrad region an exporter of electricity. 

However, after Poland and Lithuania refused to buy its products in 2014, construction was suspended. According to Tomashevsky, the Hungarian MVM group, which is responsible for the modernization of the Paks nuclear power plant operating in Hungary, and the ZE PAK concern owned by Solozh have expressed their readiness to invest in the Baltic NPP.

“The main argument in favor of the construction of the energy bridge and the Baltic NPP is the accelerating energy transformation, due to which in the coming years it will be necessary to stop most of the Polish coal-fired power plants, which will lead to an increase in demand for energy imports,” the expert explains the motivation of the Polish side. But, given that nuclear energy works at the intersection of business and politics, and the second is almost more than the first, the question arose how the Polish authorities would react to the project, which implies entering into a dialogue with their Russian counterparts. Tomaszewski reports that Solozh allegedly discussed this idea with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Minister of State Assets Jacek Sashin. Whether it is true or not, it is difficult to say, government representatives have not yet provided their comments. But neighboring Lithuania twitched.

Lithuanian Energy Minister Dainius Kreivis said in an interview with the Lithuanian business portal Verslo Žinios that “the information about the construction of a nuclear power plant in the Kaliningrad region with the participation of Polish and Hungarian companies either does not correspond to reality, or is part of an information war waged by Russia.” The Lithuanian minister believes that Polish officials in charge of energy, primarily the strategic energy infrastructure commissioner Piotr Naimsky, adhere to the position that after the synchronization of the power systems of Poland and the Baltic republics, the import of energy from third countries, including Russia and Belarus, is impossible. It used to be like that. And now?

Poland in recent years has taken a number of decisions in the energy sector, which contain a turbulent political charge. First, it is expanding its LNG reception infrastructure (mainly from the United States) and is building its part of the Norwegian-Danish-Polish gas pipeline Baltic Pipe. Secondly, it adopted a program for the construction of Polish nuclear power plants. Thirdly, it agreed with the green course of the European Union. In each of these directions, Warsaw is facing side effects that could force it to correct its previous positions. The Green Deal sets ambitious targets for drastic cuts, with a view to bringing greenhouse gas emissions to zero. For Poland, this means that it first of all needs to find a replacement for its coal-fired power plants, in other words, to stop mining coal and switch to alternative energy sources.

By and large, there are two options here – gas and nuclear. Renewable energy sources will not cover the needs of the Polish economy. Warsaw in both cases relied on the Americans. But this was relevant during the presidency of Donald Trump, because in addition to the business component, the ruling Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) hoped to derive political added value from such cooperation with the United States. Apparently, this will not be possible with the Joe Biden administration, which is why Polish experts and analysts suggest considering alternative projects. For example, to abandon the previous plans to build nuclear power plants with the Americans, betting on France.

However, in any case, Poland is still far from the appearance of its own nuclear power plants, while coal generation should be stopped in the coming years. Projects for enhancing the gas component in the country’s balance sheet are facing internal resistance, and the nuclear component – with external ones. Recently, American lobbyists for the Troyemorye initiative, represented by former US ambassadors to Poland Daniel Fried (1997-2000) and Georgette Mosbacher (2018-2021), and senior analyst of the Atlantic Council Jan Brzezinski, made an article focusing on the creation of Eastern Europe has a developed gas infrastructure, primarily LNG terminals, in which Germany is simply obliged to invest in order to “reduce the risk associated with Nord Stream 2”.

In this situation, potential Polish-Hungarian-Russian cooperation on the completion and subsequent joint operation of the Baltic NPP could solve some of Poland’s energy problems. In this case, Warsaw gets the opportunity to replace part of the coal-fired generation with “atomic electricity”. The claims of Germany are withdrawn, which is protesting against plans to build Polish nuclear power plants near its borders. In addition, nothing prevents the Polish authorities from entering into negotiations with Rosatom on the prospects of creating Polish nuclear power plants by its forces. This will not in the least hinder Poland’s political maneuverability, just as the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Turkey does not prevent Ankara from arguing over a number of important problems with Moscow. Of course, if Law and Justice starts a dialogue with Russia in the atomic sphere, opponents of the ruling party will get another opportunity to accuse it of “working for the Kremlin.” But, on the other hand, the opposition is doing it this way today. So there isn’t much to lose PiS here, by and large.

July 6, 2021 Stanislav Stremidlovsky

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