Temelín nuclear power plant, Czech Republic (Jaromir Chalabala / Shutterstock)

Recent reports from Russian intelligence operations in the Czech Republic in 2014 exacerbated tensions between the two countries, directly affecting the Czech government’s plans for the future development of its nuclear sector. After previously announcing the inclusion of Russian nuclear company Rosatom on its shortlist of potential bidders for a new nuclear unit at its Dukovany site, the Czech government on April 19 released a resolution remove Rosatom and prohibit it and Russian entrepreneurs from participating in consortia. With the earlier exclusion of China General Nuclear (CGN) from the prequalification list, the remaining suppliers include EDF in France, KHNP in South Korea and Westinghouse in the United States.

This significant action by the Czech government can be seen in the larger geopolitical context of new threatening Russian military action against Ukraine and growing cybersecurity threats, New American sanctions on Russia, congressional opposition to Gazprom’s Nord Stream II pipeline, growing competition between the West and Russian and Chinese state-owned nuclear companies, and the ongoing debate within the European Union (EU) over future of nuclear energy in the European Green Agreement climate program and sustainable finance taxonomy.

The Czech Republic is one of eight EU countries that obtains more than 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power generation, and the Czech government plans to increase nuclear power by up to 50 percent of the country’s electricity by 2050. The Czech Republic has four Soviet-designed VVER-440-v213 reactors in Dukovany and two VVER-1000-v320 units in Temelin, which are operated by the electricity company CEZ (owned 70 percent by the Czech government). Although the Czech electricity system disconnected from the Soviet IPS / UPS system in 1993 and is now integrated with the continental ENTSO-E system, it still depends on nuclear fuel from Russia as well as natural gas supplied by Russia into the framework of long-term contracts with Gazprom. for a considerable part of its domestic gas consumption of 8.3 billion cubic meters (bcm).

For several years there has been a debate about the costs and benefits of building new reactors at Dukovany and Temelin. With the EU’s tightening emissions policies and national environmental protests, the Czech government has come under pressure to shut down its lignite and coal plants, which provide 50 percent of the country’s electricity. A National Coal Commission has recommended phasing out coal by 2038, but no political agreement has been reached on a date. But in this context, the decision to build a new nuclear power plant has become increasingly urgent as the government, as part of its National Energy and Climate Plan 2020, also strives to increase energies. renewables and energy efficiency to achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. by 2030 compared to 2005.

The Czech government gave its preliminary approval for the construction of a new unit in Dukovany in 2019, and in May 2020, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš indicated that the government would provide a ready to CEZ covering 70 percent of the estimated unit cost of 6 billion euros, with CEZ to finance the remaining 30 percent. On March 8, 2021, the Czech State Office for Nuclear Safety approved the site authorization for up to two new reactors at the Dukovany site. The removal of Rosatom and CGN from the prequalification process is important, given that Russia and China have considerable experience in operating third generation reactors and are competing for markets in Europe. Rosatom has been operating its third-generation VVER-1200 design since 2017, building several such reactors overseas in Finland, Bangladesh, Turkey and Hungary, and has a long-standing commercial and technical relationship with CEZ.

Initially an importer of nuclear technologies from EDF and Westinghouse, China is now seeking to build its own Hualong One (HPR1000) reactor in Bradwell, England, in partnership with EDF. The Hualong One has been certified by the European Utility Requirements Organization, and it has also undergone a generic design assessment conducted by the UK nuclear regulator, which is now in the final assessment phase. The first Hualong One reactor entered commercial operation in Fuqing, China on January 31, 2021, and more are under construction in China and Pakistan. The EPR and AP1000 units in France (Flamanville), Finland (Olkiluoto) and the United States (Vogtle) suffered significant delays but appear to be close to commissioning. Westinghouse also has a history of cooperation with CEZ, having provided – with funding from the American Export and Import Bank – instrumentation and control technology for the modernization of the Temelin plant in 2000. The KHNP from South Korea is also a major competitor. It operates two third-generation APR1400 units in South Korea, and the first of four South Korean APR1400 units recently started generating power at the Barakah power plant in the United Arab Emirates.

The tender for the Czech Dukovany unit is not expected until 2022 or 2023, after the national elections in October 2021. These elections could possibly change the current policy of excluding Rosatom from the tender. offers, although the longer-term ramifications of such an exclusion for relations with Russia remain unclear at this point. The Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade has previously announced a timetable for the finalization of a contract with the selected supplier by 2024, the start of construction by 2029 and the commissioning of the unit d ‘by 2039. The management of the Dukovany plant sent a letter to EDF, Westinghouse and KHNP on June 21 initiating a “safety assessment” process, a report of which should be submitted to the government by the end of November 2021.

From an EU perspective, nuclear energy has not been included in the EU taxonomy for sustainable activities published on April 21, 2021, although a complementary delegated act on nuclear energy is being prepared following further analysis. In December 2020, the EU presented its updated and improved version National determined contribution (NDC) for the Glasgow Climate Summit in November 2021. The submission confirms the EU’s target of “a net domestic reduction of at least 55% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990”. Although nuclear power is being phased out in several EU countries, it is increasingly recognized that nuclear, which provides 40% of the EU’s carbon-free electricity generation, will continue to be a important element of a 2050 net zero strategy.

The previous American administration, in its Restoring America’s Competitive Nuclear Advantage report, called for significant U.S. efforts to facilitate nuclear power technology exports and funding to restore U.S. nuclear power leadership vis-à-vis Russia and the United States. China. President Biden is expected to continue this policy, support Czech energy security and work to weaken Russia’s position in central and eastern European nuclear energy markets. The competitive nuclear challenge in the Czech Republic will be a test of the will and ability of the Biden-Harris administration to work with allies on climate change and the clean energy transition, and to develop concrete sets of commercial support to integrate these interests in the administration’s national security strategy. .

Dr. Robert F. Ichord, Jr. is a Non-Resident Principal Investigator at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center.

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