Experts dampen hopes of Central Europe’s nuclear future

As Czechia looks to decarbonise its coal-based economy, it sees nuclear energy as the backbone of its future energy mix. [Shutterstock / Kletr]

As Czechia looks to decarbonise its coal-based economy, it sees nuclear energy as the backbone of its future energy mix. The Czech government plans to build a new nuclear power plant unit that is expected to be operational in 2036. Still, experts warn of delays and high costs, already observed in Slovakia or Hungary.

According to the Industry and Trade Ministry, nuclear energy could solve the Czech need for low-carbon and stable energy sources. The country’s future energy mix is a hot topic due to the EU’s climate ambitions and the recent energy price hikes.

However, a new study published on Tuesday contradicts the current pro-nuclear narrative of the Czech government.

“The new nuclear unit would not really contribute to decarbonisation, in terms of replacing the current coal sources,” said Oldřich Sklenář, author of the study and energy analyst at the Association for International Affairs, in an interview for EURACTIV.cz.

“The launch of the new unit should take place after 2036, but we have to phase out coal much earlier. Experience from the Euro-Atlantic area shows that it is a huge problem to meet the deadlines. Basically, everyone faces this problem,” Sklenář warned, adding that the actual costs of the projects could be double those expected.

Czechia is not the only Central European country betting on nuclear energy, but new nuclear projects in Slovakia and Hungary have faced long delays. 

New units in Slovakia’s Mochovce were supposed to be in operation in 2012 and 2013 but have been delayed until 2022. 

Planned Hungarian Paks II, to be constructed by Rosatom, faces problems as well, as the licensing of the project has been postponed. Hungary has amended its nuclear safety protocols to custom-fit the project, allowing some work to begin before the entire project gets the regulatory nod.

At the same time, the US has also tried to lure Eastern Europe with nuclear power, teasing a $23 trillion market to countries in Central and Eastern Europe by 2030.

In October last year, Poland and Washington signed a 30-year intergovernmental agreement on future cooperation in developing the Polish civil nuclear energy programme. The first nuclear power station could start operating in 2033.

With the currently ongoing energy crisis, a group of primarily Eastern European member states have heaped pressure on the European Commission to grant nuclear energy a ‘green’ label under the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy, which guides climate-friendly investments.

A proposal from the European Commission is now expected “by the end of the year,” said Kadri Simson, the EU’s energy commissioner said after the recent energy ministerial in October.

(Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz, edited by Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)

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