How to secure a uranium supply for nuclear power in Poland

23 November 2023 | Knowledge, News

The success of the Polish nuclear power industry depends not only on the proper planning of the investment process for the construction of reactors, but also on the preparation for the operation of existing facilities. To this end, it is necessary to understand the peculiarities of nuclear projects and the specific legal requirements involved, including ensuring the supply of nuclear fuel.

Where does the energy in a nuclear power plant come from

Nuclear power plants are technically complex, but the way they generate electricity is relatively simple. The key part of the process is the reactor – the place where the atomic nucleus is split and a large amount of energy is released.

Normally, the heat energy generated in the reactor is then transferred to the water cycle, which, depending on the reactor design, will eventually drive a turbine that generates electricity.

For fission to take place, the reactor must contain nuclear fuel with certain properties. This is usually uranium, although the exact composition varies according to the type of reactor used in a particular power station.

Unusual fuel supply arrangements

Uranium is mined in many places around the world, including Canada, Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as some African countries and Australia. Uranium is also found in Poland, where it was mined and processed in the last century[1].

For energy purposes, however, uranium is now often imported from abroad. Due to the nature of nuclear fuel, the supply characteristics of this type of commodity are very different from imports of other types of fuels and raw materials:

  • Sources of supply can be diversified because of the differing geographical locations of the world’s uranium resources
  • There is no need for large orders, as even small quantities of nuclear fuel can produce more energy than other materials[2]
  • At the same time, an increase in the price of nuclear fuel does not significantly increase the cost of the production of energy in a nuclear power plant[3]
  • The transporting and handling of radioactive materials will require appropriate mechanisms

The European Union and uranium purchases

Although Poland does not yet have a nuclear power plant, it is still required to comply with EU rules on nuclear fuel imports. These are laid down for example in the Treaty on the European Atomic Energy Community.

This Treaty, which is binding on all EU Member States, states that one of the tasks of the Community is to ensure that all users in the Community receive a regular and equitable supply of ores and nuclear fuels[4].

The Supply Agency of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom Supply Agency, or ESA) was one of the bodies set up to achieve these objectives. The Agency has a right of first refusal on any ores, source materials and special fissile materials (e.g. uranium, but also plutonium or thorium[5]) produced in the territories of the Member States.

The ESA also has the exclusive right to conclude contracts for the supply of ores, source materials and special fissile materials from within or outside the Community.[6] Contracts for the above materials which are not concluded by the Agency are considered void.[7]

Two supply procedures

There are two ways of concluding supply contracts involving the ESA: the simplified procedure and the centralised procedure.

In the first case, purchasers of materials are authorised to invite tenders directly from producers, intermediaries or other users of their choice and to negotiate the supply contract freely. However, the contract is concluded by submitting it to the Agency for signature.[8] Although the ESA signs such a contract, it generally does not, however, assume any obligations under it.

The second procedure is initiated by the Agency only in exceptional cases, i.e. after the Agency has established that the regular supply of nuclear materials at risk.[9]

If the Agency considers that the conclusion of a particular contract could prejudice the achievement of the objectives of the Euratom Treaty, it may refuse to conclude it.

The law and Polish nuclear projects

Due to the high level of complexity of regulatory requirements in the nuclear power industry, both nationally and internationally, legal analysis needs to begin at a very early stage of a project.

Plant operators will face a number of legal challenges, such as:

  • Liability for nuclear damage
  • Employment and training of staff
  • Ensuring nuclear safety and protection from radiation
  • Securing the supply and safe disposal of nuclear fuel

Source: Biznesalert.pl

Date: 16.11.2023

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[1] Na ile lat wystarczy polskiego uranu?, Polski Atom, < https://www.gov.pl/web/polski-atom/na-ile-lat-wystarczy-polskiego-uranu> [access: 30.10.2023]

[2] Program polskiej energetyki jądrowej, wersja 2020, Annex to resolution No. 141 of the Council of Ministers dated 2 October 2020 (item 946), p. 7.

[3] Ibidem.

[4] Treaty on the European Atomic Energy Community (Journal of Laws of 2004, No. 90, item 864/3, as amended), Article 2 d).

[5] Treaty on the European Atomic Energy Community (Journal of Laws of 2004, No. 90, item 864/3, as amended), see Article 197.

[6] Treaty on the European Atomic Energy Community (Journal of Laws of 2004, No. 90, item 864/3, as amended), see Article 52(2) b).

[7] Rules of the Supply Agency of the European Atomic Energy Community determining the manner in which demand is to be balanced against the supply of ores, source materials and special fissile materials, C/2021/2893, O.J. L 218 of 18.6.2021, pp 58 to 64, Article 9(1).

[8] Ibidem, Article 9(2) and Article 11.

[9] Ibidem, Article 12.

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