The head of the Czech State Office for Nuclear Safety, Dana Drábová, warned on 23 February about European Union (EU) pressure to close the Dukovany nuclear plant. "There is immense pressure developing that the operating life of nuclear reactors should be limited to 40 years. That means our political representatives – whoever they might be – sometime around 2023 will face a battle over a further ten-year extension for Dukovany."
The current State Energy Framework assumes the lifetime of the Dukovany reactors will end between 2030 and 2040," Drábová told Czech Radio: "There are member states which are showing a desire to go down this road. These are of course the 14 countries which are not using nuclear power.” She noted previous instances in Europe where reactors have been forced to close because of what were political reasons. She gave the example of two reactors at Slovakia’s Jaslovské Bohunice plant which were forced to close as a condition for the country joining the EU.
The Czech government and the state power company CEZ are depending on the four Dukovany reactors, which started up between 1985 and 1987, operating for at least 50 years and being phased out from around 2035. Czech energy policy requires at least one new reactor to be in operation at Dukovany before the others close down. With the timeline for getting a new reactor built and running by 2035 already regarded as extremely tight, the possibility of bringing that target forward ten years would be impossible.
Prague, therefore, hopes to expedite the Dukovany new build project which would entail persuading Brussels to exempt it from strict EU rules on government bids.
If it fails, the Czech government is considering a nuclear deal with Russia similar to the one signed with Hungary. This would cause complications for the European Commission (EC), which reluctantly approved Hungary’s Paks II nuclear project last year following lengthy negotiation The decision is now being challenged by Austria for breaching EU state aid rules.
Kristýna Križanová, an adviser to the Czech deputy minister of industry and trade, said talks with Brussels are “getting really complicated". Ján Štuller, special envoy for nuclear energy at the ministry of industry and trade, said six bidders that completed a Czech Request for Information in 2016 are currently “on the same line of the starting point with the same opportunity to win”.
Bidders include Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, China General Nuclear Power, Russia's Rosatom, US-based Westinghouse Electric, France’s Areva and EDF, and a the Atmea joint venture between Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy.
However, if the EC agrees to the relaxed tender conditions, or if the Czechs decide to pursue a direct government-to-government deal, Russian state nuclear company Rosatom would be ahead of the five other bidders. Moscow can also offer financing for projects it sees as strategically important, and it has strong political backing in Prague following the reelection of President Miloš Zeman in January. Zeman has said he would not be opposed to a nuclear deal similar to the one Hungary struck for Paks. Acting Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has not expressed an official position on Russia.
US-based Politico cited an EU diplomat based in Prague as saying: “We’ve always known that the preference is for Russia. The decision, in the end, will be political.” Prague is now considering how to cover the cost of new nuclear. Babiš has spoken publicly against a previous government plan to raise money by spinning off some of CEZ’s units and keeping nuclear, fossil fuels and hydroelectric assets under state control.