The Black Triangle

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Such a title begs to be repeated. The Black Triangle. Shorthand for the Silesian region’s most silent killer, the name alone is that of an 18th century Penny Dreadful, some awful pirate narrative where men with enlarged lymph nodes and other bubonic disorders search for non-existant treasure at the bottom of a watery, dark tomb. It is not for me to rehash the miles of column inches detailing Poland’s shameful pollutant statistics. You and I both know about the causes and effects of airborne dust particles and I doubt at this stage that even the most gormless, right-wing bumpkin pushing a wheelbarrow in some village where the dogs bark out of their ass, doesn’t appreciate the villainous effects of the toxic particulate PM2.5.

We all know that Poland has failed to take any measure to combat this, despite being warned about it as far back as 2005. And who doesn’t believe that successive governments are beholden to fossil fuel interests and won’t offer any alternatives? Of course, we all also know what the alternative is – the nuclear option and it is here that both Ireland and Poland once again converge.

In 1979 the Green Party of Ireland successfully campaigned against the then Irish government’s decision to build a nuclear power plant in the south-east of the country and in doing so consecrated themselves as the keepers of Ireland’s ecological flame, this band of little priests, standing on the mount, exorcising all perfidious nuclear generated electrons. They won because the world was reeling from the Three-mile Island nuclear meltdown in Pennsylvania only months before, and the entire country was crystallised behind an anti-nuclear strategy.

I’m sure this is ringing a lot of bells for Polish readers; the failed Polish nuclear program of 1990, where the nascent post-Communist government caved in to a public who feared the terrors of Chernobyl to be visited upon them. Yet had the Irish government of 1979 introduced nuclear power, my country would have the lowest carbon dioxide emissions in Europe and be the worshipped as the eco-model all others must follow. The capital costs of such a facility would long since have been paid off, we would have had the cheapest electricity in western Europe and wouldn’t have to import nuclear-generated electricity from Britain as our government decided to do in 2009, a coalition government, which, wait for it, was made up of the Green Party and the very people who marched against nuclear power in 1979.

So there you have it. A very Irish solution to an Irish problem. Not only are we content to export abortion to our nearest and dearest neighbour, but we also import their energy that we are too feckless to provide for ourselves. Sometimes, this son of an Irish Republican understands why the English sought to colonise us.

And what of the Polish problem? According to professor Wladyslaw Mielczarskiego from the Technical University of Lodz, the nuclear option doesn’t yet make financial sense – the costs of producing 1MWh of electricity from coal is 100 Euros as opposed to 140 Euros with nuclear power.

Added to that, no government wants to have it on their record that they green-lighted a facility which has the potential of turning into another Fukushima. Better to have the slow drip of 43,000 annual deaths than a once off big-bang effect.

Yet it is surprising how many Poles are in favour of freeing themselves from the tyranny of coal. I have talked to many who have signed up for home gas connections. Among certain sections of the community there are financial anxieties, but on average the annual extra cost for a typical household switching from coal to gas would be no more than 2000 zloty. The Polish people must prioritise then? Well, easier to write than to achieve, but this is where the good faith of both central and local governments comes into play. In Gliwice we have a sports/entertainment stadium being constructed. The EU refused to fund it as was deemed a financial liability and non-essential. 340 million zloty (somewhere in the region of 85 million euro) of tax-payers money is being sunk into an edifice that when no management company would take it on, was off-loaded onto the officials who manage the city’s sewerage facility.

340 million. With this Gliwice, one of the top six most polluted cities in Europe, could be one of the greenest. In the world.

But we have a stadium. And perhaps it will become useful. After all, we’ll need somewhere to store all the bodies if our Black Triangle gets any blacker.

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