Nuclear power is the next big bet for Polish copper producer


Europe’s drive to reduce carbon emissions takes many forms, from government support for R&D to investment in electric vehicle (EV) charging structures, hydrogen fuel technology and infrastructure. , to name a few.

Too bad for the carrots.

On the side of the stick, the EU has a carbon emissions trading scheme that grants credits to major emitters. However, it further increases the cost of electricity for industrial and residential consumers.

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Polish copper producer turns to nuclear

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For those countries that depend most on coal-fired power generation, the problem is most acute.

Poland, with 70% of its electricity production dependent on coal, is one of the hardest hit.

It is therefore not surprising that large consumers are looking to diversify their energy sources. However, rather than the obvious choice of natural gas – or renewables like wind and solar – Poland’s second largest consumer of electricity, the copper producer KGHM, turns to nuclear.

In an interview with the Financial Times, the company outlined plans to partner with NuScale Power from the United States to develop the first four small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). Each would be capable of producing 77 MW of power and would be operational from 2029.

In total, the project could include up to 12 SMR with a total installed capacity of 1 GW. The intention is to make the company completely independent from the grid and to guarantee stable and inexpensive energy in the long term.

Renewable energies such as wind and sun have a role to play in Poland. However, the lack of sun in winter and most onshore wind turbines make the economy more difficult than in, say, sunny Spain or windy Britain off the coast.

SMRs have been touted for years as a cheaper and certainly less controversial option than massive nuclear power plants. For example, Britain’s Bradwell B will produce 2.2 GW if it ever becomes operational.

Profitable level

Much smaller and locally positioned SMRs could offer alternatives, not only for residential supply, but also for large industrial consumers like chemical plants, steel plants and, as in this case, metal refineries. This is, of course, provided that the costs can be brought down to competitive levels.

An increasingly contested European energy landscape finds that the break-even point is increasing.

The bloc’s emissions trading system, limited natural gas supplies and the cost associated with renewable energy variability contribute to this dynamic.

UK government backs reactor maker Rolls Royce in the marketing of its small submarine reactors for terrestrial applications, such as the NuScale reactors.

Rolls-Royce has decades of experience in building and operating such reactors. The main obstacles now are regulatory approval and factory production of the reactors, which is essential for the costs per kWh to return to a sustainable level.

Clearly, KGHM believes that the technology has sufficient potential to commit considerable euros to the development of four initial reactors. Poland is the largest mining country in Europe. The country has a significant production of zinc, lead and silver (in addition to copper).

As such, KGHM is unlikely to be the latest metal refiner to seek such an innovative solution for its energy needs.

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