Matt Atlas

Government, Opposition Clash Over Russia’s Role In Planned Reactor Deal

The Czech government and opposition parties failed to agree on whether to invite Russian companies into a tender to build a new nuclear reactor, prolonging uncertainty over the $7 billion project planned by power utility CEZ.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis is seeking a broad political consensus on the plan because preparations and building the reactor will span several governments. The approved timetable envisages construction works to last from 2029 to 2036.

The government is willing to exclude Chinese companies from the tender, but it’s still considering inviting potential suppliers from Russia, opposition leaders said after meeting Babis on Wednesday. They are demanding that bidders from both countries are excluded because the national intelligence services have warned that they may represent a security threat for the EU and NATO member.

“The key is Russia’s participation, and it hasn’t been rejected,” Marketa Pekarova Adamova, the head of the center-right TOP 09 party, told reporters. “That’s a big disappointment for me from today’s meeting.”

Industry Minister Karel Havlicek confirmed that the cabinet is leaning toward barring Chinese companies from taking part in the tender, the CTK newswire reported.

The government believes building a new 1,200 MW unit at the Dukovany nuclear plant is key to curbing carbon emissions as part of the EU’s long-term goal of achieving climate neutrality. The landlocked country has limited options for renewable sources and is counting on atomic energy to end its dependence on coal.

The state-controlled power utility CEZ originally intended to launch the tender for the reactor supplier by the end of last year, but the process stalled in December because of the debate about geopolitical risks.

Babis has floated a possibility of postponing the start of the tender until after the October elections. The project has also become a domestic political matter. President Milos Zeman, who is Babis’ ally and a supporter of economic ties with Moscow and Beijing, has urged the government to include all possible bidders to secure the best price.