On the 27th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, Aleksander Grad, the nuclear director of Polish utility PGE, sat behind his huge desk in his likewise huge office in Warsaw.
What was he doing? Keeping two minutes of silence to remember the hundreds of thousands of people who suffered from the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe? Contemplating how his own nuclear plans could lead to a similar catastrophe? Realising that no emergency plan would protect the people around Lubiatowo and Zarnowiec or further down the road, areas where PGE wants to build Poland's first nuclear power stations?
Instead, Mr. Grad signed a letter threatening legal action against Tadeusz Pastusiak, president of "Lubiatowo Dunes", a tiny environmental tourism organisation. Grad's letter accused Pastusiak of spreading lies that would tarnish the good name of giant PGE and could lead to social unrest!
Mr. Pastusiak lives near where PGE plans to turn a unique dune landscape into a huge 3,000 MW nuclear power plant. He makes his living through environmentally friendly tourism. What has he done to upset Mr. Grad so much?
PGE wants to do some research to see if its chosen sites are suitable for two or three huge nuclear reactors, turbine halls, radioactive waste storage, transformer stations and so on.
Part of the chosen site at Lubiatowo is a protected Natura2000 area, with free-flowing sand dunes and a low-growing pine forest – a uniquely beautiful piece of nature. A month ago, I saw a lesser-spotted eagle fly up among the trees on the edge of the beach there.
PGE sent all inhabitants around the proposed sites a leaflet explaining the research. Nice and transparent, isn't it? Wrong. PGE did not mention the Natura2000 protection. Didn't mention the nuisance the research could bring to the local community. Above all, it remained completely silent about research activities that could irreversibly damage the entire dune eco-system. Dozens of 200-meter-deep holes would be drilled; roads expanded, and heavy machines would be used.
The leaflet didn't discuss what would happen if Lubiatowo were unsuitable for a nuclear power plant. What would happen with the shallow pools and the ground water when the underground was turned into an Emmentaler cheese? Where would the lesser-spotted eagle go when heavy machines are driving around in the dunes?
It is the European habit – no, it is the law – that a company investigates these issues and discusses them with all involved, including the public, through an Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed research. That's what the law says, what EU Directives say, what the Aarhus Convention on public participation says, and what common sense demands. But PGE was not prepared to do any of this – at least not according to the company's leaflet.
So, the tiny NGO "Lubiatowo Dunes" decided to give the local inhabitants a bit clearer and more complete picture. They spoofed the PGE leaflet to outline their concerns and put it on their web-page. They thought they have the right to do so in a democratic country that is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression and the right to hold opinions.
So you can imagine the angry picture in office of nuclear boss Grad, A lawyer was brought in to formulate a threatening letter. Completely forgotten was that it was 26 April, the 27th anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe.
Just to put a few things straight:
- It is completely legitimate to illustrate your concerns with a few pages from a leaflet that has been spread house-to-house in an entire municipality. In copyright law, that's called "fair use".
- "Lubiatowo Dunes" is completely right stating that the leaflet is not telling the whole story.
- When PGE forces through a time-line without an environmental impact assessment of its research activities, it is not following the law on environmental impact assessment, the EU EIA Directive and the Aarhus Convention which prescribe public participation when potential irreversible environmental damage could occur – especially to a Natura2000 site.
- And, yes, spreading half-truths and lies can lead to social unrest. If PGE knows that, why did they spread that soft-blue-green leaflet?
Poland has been warned. Legitimate concerns will be met with bullying from PGE's Grad.
Greenpeace supports "Lubiatowo Dunes" fully! You have made a fair point and obviously PGE has something to hide.
Yech – nuclear bullies... we don't need you. There are cleaner, cheaper and more democratic alternatives to provide safe and sufficient energy to this beautiful country needs.
Jan Haverkamp is a Greenpeace expert consultant on nuclear energy and energy policy and Greenpeace's candidate for the position of director of PGE EJ.
Image: © Greenpeace / Jan Haverkamp