Czech environment minister given some assurance on Polish mining plans near border

Czech and Polish ministers of the environment met on Thursday with the Czech side having a lengthy list of issues to discuss. High up on that list were Polish plans to explore for uranium and continue the development of a massive brown coal lignite mine just across the frontier.

Richard Brabec, photo: Filip JandourekRichard Brabec, photo: Filip Jandourek Czech Minister of Environment Richard Brabec travelled to Warsaw Thursday for what were scheduled to be three hours of talks with his recently installed Polish counterpart, Professor Jan Szyszka.

On the Czech side there were quite a few issues on the priority list. These included possible exploitation of uranium deposits just across the Polish side of the border and development of a massive brown coal mine not far from the frontier. Related Polish plans for exploiting methane gas through the controversial hydraulic fracking process last month also prompted 21 mayors from Czech villages and towns around Náchod and Trutnov in the northeast of the country to sign a joint protest declaration.

The Czech protesters say that some of the prospecting could take place within 10 kilometres of the highest Czech peak Sněžka, the centre of a Czech protected nature area. One of the main worries is about the threat to the quality of groundwater on both sides of the frontier.

There is also the question of the expansion just across the border in Poland of a massive brown coal or lignite coal mine at Turow. It now covers 45 square kilometres but could be expanded to 55 square kilometres and deepened by around 75 metres to release hundreds of millions of tons of coal over the next 25 years. Much of that coal could be burnt in a large local power plant.

The Polish power group PGE, which operates the Turow mine is also piloting plans for new nuclear plants after 2020 with local uranium reserves possibly tapped for the purpose. This is all delicate territory with the Czech side having negligible rights to information or ability to intervene concerning Polish energy and environmental issues.

Turow lignite coal mine, photo: Anna Uciechowska, CC BY-SA 3.0Turow lignite coal mine, photo: Anna Uciechowska, CC BY-SA 3.0 Spokeswoman at the environment ministry Petra Roubíčková said that there was some success as regards the overall exchange of information and also about the state of the coal mine expansion plans and uranium mining:

“Polish colleagues have promised to give us some of the missing files and information on the coal mining. They also stressed the fact that no final decision on expanding mining at Turow has been taken. Survey work is still being undertaken on that as well as on the environmental impact. And there could be proposals for a smaller area to be mined and measures to reduce the impact. The Poles have promised very close cooperation and detailed information and a joint approach with regard to these moves.”

On uranium mining the Polish side said that all survey work had now stopped and was not going to proceed any further and that no companies were at this stage interested in mining possible uranium reserves. The issue of shale gas exploitation and fracking was not raised on Thursday.