Czech nuclear expansion faces delay amid concerns of opposition, secret services

"There could be the danger of a situation where the Czech Republic can be easily blackmailed on the strategic level by a risky subject, respectively by the country of its origin," said a document by intelligence and foreign policy officials. [IAEA Imagebank / Flickr]

A tender to decide who builds a new unit at a Czech nuclear power plant may face delays after security services and opposition parties raised concerns about the possible participation of bidders from China and Russia, officials said.

According to a document seen by Reuters, a working group of intelligence and foreign policy officials under the Interior Ministry wants conditions imposed to ensure bidders from countries that pose a security risk are disqualified.

The main Czech power utility ČEZ, which is 70% state-owned, has been planning to launch a tender before the end of the year for a 1,200 MW unit at its Dukovany power plant and to pick a winner in 2022.

The project is worth at least $7.24 billion at current prices, making it the country’s biggest investment deal so far, and includes a state commitment to buy power from the plant at profitable terms for ČEZ.

President Milos Zeman has sought closer ties with China and Russia. He has favoured their participation, and the government and ČEZ have said no bidders should be excluded.

But Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said on Monday the tender was not yet ready, and suggested it should not be decided just 10 months before an election.

“We want to present the situation for approval at the standing committee for nuclear power and debate it with other parties, so all are in agreement,” he told a news conference.

ČEZ said on Tuesday it was waiting for the government to provide feedback on the proposed conditions.

“All now depends on the position of the state,” ČEZ spokesman Ladislav Kriz said. “There must be agreement on the tender documentation.”

Czech government takes step towards building new nuclear block

The Czech government on Monday (27 April) approved agreements with majority state-owned electricity producer ČEZ setting out the framework for building a new nuclear power block to come online in 2036, state and company officials said.

The document drawn up by the working group of intelligence and foreign policy officials set out demands on security issues for the Industry and Trade Ministry, which represents the government in talks with ČEZ.

“There could be the danger of a situation where the Czech Republic can be easily blackmailed on the strategic level by a risky subject, respectively by the country of its origin,” the document said.

Five opposition parties came together last week to reject participation of bidders from Russia or China in the tender, and the foreign and security committee of the upper house of parliament adopted a resolution calling for the same.

But Babiš, whose government lacks a majority in parliament, has also been keen to maintain backing from the Communist Party, which favours Russian participation and has close relations with President Zeman.

The Czech Republic said it “has no other choice than nuclear energy” to meet EU climate goals and would only support higher climate targets at European level if Brussels clears a planned state aid request for the construction of a new nuclear block in Dukovany.

Brussels 'won’t stand in the way' of new nuclear plants, says EU climate chief

The European Commission “will not stand in the way” of countries that choose to build new nuclear power stations, said EU climate chief Frans Timmermans, who warned however about the life-cycle costs of the technology, “which means that you will be stuck with it for a long, long, long time”.

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