Czech nuclear plant expansion may be delayed amid concerns of opposition, secret services

By Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: The Czech nuclear power plant is seen at Dukovany

By Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller

PRAGUE (Reuters) - 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 CEZ, 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 CEZ.

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

But Prime Minister Andrej Babis 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.

CEZ 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," CEZ spokesman Ladislav Kriz said. "There must be agreement on the tender documentation."

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 CEZ.

"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 Babis, 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.

($1 = 22.1010 Czech crowns)

(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka, editing by Timothy Heritage)