* Some 94 percent of local community opposed to nuclear plant
* Warsaw says will consider the decision
* Poland wants to develop nuclear to reduce coal reliance (Adds PGE comment)
By Maciej Onoszko
MIELNO, Poland, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Residents of popular Baltic Sea resort Mielno, one of three sites shortlisted to host Poland’s first nuclear plant early in the next decade, on Sunday voted overwhelmingly against the plan.
Some 94 percent of the 2,389 people who took part in the referendum opposed the plant, and only 5 percent supported it, Mielno Mayor Olga Roszak-Pezala told Reuters late on Sunday. Turnout was 57 percent.
The village of Gaski in the Mielno municipality is one of three sites selected by Polish power company PGE last November to host a power station with a capacity of 3 gigawatts, which is set to double in the 2030s.
The emergence of Gaski on the PGE shortlist caught local authorities and citizens by surprise, with some 90 percent of them earning their living from tourism, Roszak-Pezala said.
“People are very determined not to have the nuclear plant here,” she told Reuters.
On the day of the ballot, many buildings in Mielno were placarded with ‘vote no’ posters. Some participants of a polar bear plunge, an event taking place simultaneously in Mielno over the weekend, also protested against nuclear power.
The European Union’s largest eastern economy, Poland, wants to introduce nuclear energy to reduce its heavy reliance on coal.
Warsaw will take the results of the referendum into account in its further work on the project, but believes the local community was hastened into the decision, a deputy economy minister, who oversees the nuclear project, said.
“The timing of the referendum held without prior debate and discussion, without the possibility of delivering information on benefits stemming from such an investment to the inhabitants of Gaski, has strongly weakened the process,” Hanna Trojanowska said in a statement on Monday.
Poland’s centrist government plans to launch a pro-nuclear public campaign in March, she added.
PGE said the nuclear station would be bringing the local authorities some 37 million zlotys ($11.7 million) in annual tax revenues, while as many as 2,400 people could find employment during the construction phase and a total of 50,000 workers would benefit indirectly by providing services, among others.
Westinghouse, a U.S.-based unit of Japan’s Toshiba, France’s Areva and the Japanese-American group GE Hitachi are competing to supply technology for the project, estimated to cost up to 21 billion euros ($27.7 billion).
Two other shortlisted sites, Choczewo and Zarnowiec, also located in northern Poland on the sea, have not held referendums.
Formally, PGE could start the project without the consent of the local community, but Mielno authorities said the ballot result was a clear signal that PGE should seek a site elsewhere.
“A referendum is the highest form of social consultation,” the head of Mielno’s municipal council, Krzysztof Chadacz, told Reuters. “If PGE does not back out, we will launch any democratically available form of protest, including legal action and appeal to the European Court of Justice.” ($1 = 0.7582 euros) ($1 = 3.1756 Polish zlotys) (Additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, writing by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Jason Neely and Jane Baird)