Monday, February 6, 2017

The abandoned Zarnowiec nuclear power plant in Poland

Żarnowiec Nuclear Power Plant was supposed to become Poland's first nuclear power plant. Planning began in the early 1970's, with extensive research with the purpose to find the most suitable location. After several years, a site near the village of Żarnowiec50 km (31 miles) northwest of Gdańsk was chosen. The site was near the Baltic Sea and Lake Żarnowiec which was to be used for cooling.

Construction began in 1982 with completion of the first reactor planned for 1989 and the second for 1990. These dates were later extended by a year. The plant was planned to occupy 70 ha of land area, while the entire complex with dedicated construction facilities and supporting buildings would take 425 ha. In addition to 79 buildings of the reactor-housing compound, the complex included hundreds of supporting facilities, including housing for the staff, a meteorological station and a railway station.

Any public opposition for the project was initially silenced by the introduction of martial law in 1981. After the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 though, environmental organizations started an anti-nuclear campaign which quickly gained widespread support. The protest which was also supported by political parties, included roadblocks and hunger strikes. In 1987, the government finally caved in and announced a referendum. Although 86,1% voted against completing the power plant, government chose to ignore the not legally binding referendum and continue the construction works.  

The project was finally abandoned in 1990 after all the supporting buildings and 40% of the first reactor had been built, with the government citing the unclear safety status of the nuclear plant, among other reasons. By that time, 84% of the construction budget had already been spent. 

After the project's abandonment, some of the equipment that had already been installed was scrapped while other was stolen. Local government tried to attract investments in the area by establishing a Special Economic Zone, but there wasn't enough success. Currently there are only 20 companies operating in the area while most of the buildings remain abandoned. The total losses resulting from mismanagement of the abandoned property over the years have been calculated as high as $2 billion. 

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1 comment:

  1. In 1990-91 I was part of a consortium to build a can manufacturing plant on the newly-abandoned Zarnowiec site. We had approval from the Regional and National government (in flux after the resignation of Jaruzelski in December 1990) for a 99-year lease provided we could provide a bond of $US5 million, which we had already provisionally raised in the US. At the time there was an abundant water supply (essential for the manufacturing process), a brand-new electrified rail line (now also abandoned) and potential access to the Baltic by canal for sea shipment. I still have the detailed business and marketing plans and details of all the negotiations. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the first Gulf War on 17th January 1991 froze all overseas investment my the US, largely from a belief commonly held amongst Americans I talked to in the ensuing weeks that the whole of Eastern and Western Europe was within the 150-mile range of SCUD missiles based in Iraq. We lost a fortune and a wonderful opportunity to revitalise an area that has sadly decayed.


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