Polish copper giant signs deal with US firm for small nuclear reactors

Vehicles work in the copper mine Sierra Gorda by Polish miner company KGHM on the inauguration day at Atacama desert, some 1,600 km of Santiago de Chile, North of Chile, 01 October 2014. [EPA/MARIO RUIZ]

Polish copper giant KGHM on Thursday (23 September) signed a memorandum of understanding with NuScale Power of the United States for the development of at least four small nuclear reactors to power its plants.

“The changes in the climate are forcing us to take decisive action,” Marcin Chludziński, president of the mining company’s management board, was quoted as saying in a statement.

“We are pioneers in Poland and we expect the first of our nuclear power reactors to come online in 2029,” he said.

KGHM is one of the world’s biggest copper and silver producers and is the second largest consumer of electricity in Poland, which is the most coal-reliant country in the European Union.

Chludzinski said that the memorandum was for the construction of at least four units with 77 megawatts capacity each. The project could include further units for a total capacity of 1 gigawatt.

“The retirement of ageing coal-fired power plants is leading to changes in power generation, infrastructure needs, and workforce opportunity,” NuScale chairman John Hopkins said.

He said the company’s reactor technology was “an ideal flexible clean energy solution to repurpose retiring coal fuelled power plants and most, importantly, retain and retrain the skilled power plant workforce already in place”.

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Poland depends on coal for about 70% of its electricity generation but has promised to shut all its coal mines by 2049 in line with European Union carbon neutrality goals.

Its heavy reliance on coal means Poland has some of the highest energy costs in the EU due to carbon emissions costs under the bloc’s Emissions Trading System.

Several Polish companies have signalled an interest in small nuclear reactor technology in recent months.

The global nuclear industry is increasingly focusing its attention on small modular reactors (SMRs), shifting away from bigger, more powerful structures.

SMRs were designed to be built in factory assembly lines and then transported to power plants.

Two Polish billionaires, Michal Solowow and Zygmunt Solorz, last month announced a private project to build four to six small nuclear reactors, each with a capacity of 300 megawatts.

To help its energy transition, the Polish state is also planning to build up to 9 gigawatts of nuclear power using large reactors and is expected to choose a foreign partner in 2022.

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