And I'm waiting for a nuclear power plant

In the seaside district of Choczewo, yellow stickers are everywhere: in shop windows and ice cream parlors, on entry gates and fences, on bicycles, cars and tractors, in windows and on home-made banners, even on beach balls, hats and beach wind screens so much mocked by everyone… And everywhere their message is loud: "No to the nuclear power plant".

I have just returned from a short break by the Baltic Sea. Only there, on an endless, empty beach, among grey-green-navy-blue waves do I feel like I am on a real holiday. "Where can one still find places like this?" my friends ask suspiciously when I send them postcards from this seaside wilderness, far away from stalls, fish bars, discos and any other attractions. Neither the pouring Pomeranian rains nor the bitter cold could chase me away from there, even though it was supposed to be the coldest week on the Baltic Sea in years. Instead of wallowing in the stormy sea I walked along the roads and pathways, inspecting the entire area, smothered with yellow pasted on stickers.

The area, that so proudly proclaims its special status as the "seaside wilderness", fears that the much heralded [plan for building a] nuclear power plant will mean the end of its current existence. And that would mean the end of the holidaymakers who come here between May and September, and therefore, most likely, an end to what have been quite decent earnings. Let's be blunt -- the earnings threat probably figures ahead of everything else.

So the district defends its status, achieved with great difficulty over the past thirty years. Earlier, during the communist era, many kilometers of the beach were inaccessible, fenced off, covered with barbed wire. There were some troops -- Polish or Soviet, the devil knows whose, according to the oldest inhabitants -- stationed everywhere. There were concrete slabs sticking out and maybe even, as some whisper, there were rockets with "these" warheads. No one cared too much about the well-being of the local people. The first open beach was a few kilometers away, and there were very few holidaymakers there because the whole area was in a controlled border zone, one in which there were no rooms or beds to rent.

This more or less reflected the fate of the entire coast, to a greater or lesser extent. My then "home" piece of the sea was the tiny (at the time) Ustka. We traveled there by train from Słupsk on Saturdays, immediately after my dad's return from work. We were on the beach in half an hour but only had access to its eastern side. Access to the western beach was forbidden! It's possible there were no signs that specifically said "nielzia" ["forbiden" in Russian], but there was no entrance anyway. Besides, no person in their right mind would go to the west beach. Something changed but only in the late 1960s, yet even then not everyone dared to go there. Now Ustka is a big noisy resort and there is certainly no "seaside wilderness" there.

However, in the numerous villages of the Choczewo district, a lot has changed for the better. The beach can be reached by electric car. Horses and riding lessons for children are available everywhere, and for experienced riders there's riding in the forests and on the beach as well. Naturally, all of this costs a lot of money. And did it bother anyone, you might well ask? No-one of course, but who am I going to tell? Those people who are finally living a little better?

But that's not what I want to write about, although it won't be easy for me. After all, I go there myself. I enjoy the richness of the forest and sky-horizon vistas. I pick blueberries and I can eat dumplings with blueberries that were picked just an hour earlier. Yet not only do I understand that the nuclear power plant is needed, I have a personal relationship with it. I'm even looking forward to it, you might say, although not necessarily just here. Anywhere in our country.
"I enjoy the richness of the forest and sky-horizon vistas," writes the author. The photo shows the beach in Lubiatowo in the Choczewo district. Photo: MATEUSZ SLODKOWSKI / FotoNews / Forum
In the early 70s of the last century, when I was finishing my studies -- and these being chemical studies, one had to have a very thorough knowledge of the construction dynamics of a nuclear power plant for the exam -- there was quite a lot of talk about the building of such a facility. Perhaps this applied only to us, me and my cousins, who, on graduating from the polytechnic, worked for a year or two or three on the construction of a pumped-storage power plant in nearby Żarnowiec, right next to Wierzchucin, where the Benedictine nuns live. My cousins worked with the sense that they were laying the foundations for a nuclear power plant. And then there was my friend, newly a doctor of biology with a crazy ecological plan in her head, bent on studying the meadow biocenosis there. And my colleagues from the University of Gdańsk, who had oceanographic dreams and realized them wherever possible, regardless of the lack of the ocean. We all thought then that realizing the nuclear power plant of our textbooks was just around the corner. For a long time, we probably did not grasp, despite the privately stated skepticism of our fathers and some professors, that there would be no nuclear power plant, because "Russians would never allow it." Poles wanted nukes? And what else?!

  Then, as the years passed, every now and then mirages of energy independence appeared -- projects and plans, even more detailed. I will not enumerate them. That's not the point. The thing is, they've all more or less blurred out. The revivalist trend lasted for a while, then the dust of battle settled and silence fell over yet another nuclear power plant "in the state of projects". As if there was never such a battle or even a conversation! How many years can you blame this state of affairs on incompetence, sloppiness, nonchalance or the negligence of Polish power engineers and/or other professionals and activists?

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I can't even remember now when I first realized that our skeptical fathers and professors were right. There will never be a nuclear power plant here as long as Russian influence, though invisible, is so strong that a reason for not building it will always be found. Someone somewhere will lose a document that should have been signed. Someone somewhere will misplace a prepared research project. Someone will have an "even better" idea. Someone will change the agenda. Some small accident or some other mess will happen somewhere. This is not a conspiracy theory. These are the hard facts – or rather the absence of them. No power plant.

I have even started teaching journalism students about it: that only our own nuclear power plant will be proof that Russian influence has ceased to reach the highest levels of decision-making. I have already told my older grandchildren that if a nuclear power plant finally comes to Poland in their lifetime, it will mean the real end of Russian agents.

Slowly, very slowly, maybe even slower than slowly, but still one can hope for it? Can one or two decommunization laws or perhaps the one about the Russian influence contribute to this?

Of course, I have a problem. What to do with my nice holiday hosts from this far-away village, where, just to get to the beach. one has to ride a horse, or a bicycle or drive a melex or even walk a few kilometers on foot. I do not want to offend their feelings and calculations in any way. I don’t want to connect them in any way with my otherwise brutal conclusion that those who refuse a nuclear power plant are subject to Russian influence. Of course, I don’t want it.

The hosts have their vital interests: their horses and bees, their forest and fish. That's why they protest. They do not have to think about diversification of energy sources, as this is termed in the world. And they have their rights. But they also have the memory of their ancestors, who often moved [to the Choczewo district] after being displaced from the eastern borderland settlements. It is written in their genes. They are not autochthons. They have already suffered from Russian oppression. But this article is not about them and not about their protest.

The lack of a nuclear power plant not only implies a catastrophic technical backwardness with connotations of enslavement and dependence. It also means the lack of full control over our country, of our economic, geopolitical and strategic life. Finally, there is an opportunity to try to really do something about it. Because if nothing comes of it again, the opportunity may not arise again for a long time.

– Barbara Sułek-Kowalska

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Agnieszka Rakoczy
Main photo: Słaszewo in the Choczewo district is where the nuclear power plant is to be built. Photo: MATEUSZ SLODKOWSKI / FotoNews / Forum
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