ČEZ calls for offers to expand Temelín nuclear power plant


Czech power giant ČEZ has launched a tender for two new nuclear reactors at its existing Temelín site in south Bohemia. The move aims at more than doubling output at the controversial plant and has raised questions at home and protests from neighbouring anti-nuclear Austria.

ČEZ has set an end of October deadline for the big companies that can build nuclear power plants to make offers for two new reactors at Temelín. The company is at the moment very vague about the details saying that it does not want to weight the tender in favour of one company or another. But in the past it has said that it is looking at adding an extra 3,400 MW of capacity there. That compares with around 2000 MW from the two existing reactors.

The state controlled power giant wants to get the ball rolling on the Temelín extension. It says the paperwork involved in adding two new reactors will take seven or eight years and construction could take around 15 years. ČEZ argues it has studied the broader options for new generation capacity, such as importing black coal for power plants and the maximum possible use of renewables, but nuclear still comes up trumps regarding the costs of production and security of supply.

Even so, the move has raised some eyebrows at home. There is no political decision to go ahead with more nuclear at the moment. In the former coalition government of Mirek Topolánek, the Green Party blocked any nuclear expansion. That government also commissioned a new energy policy but this has not yet been finalised. And while ČEZ last June took a first step towards expanding Temelín by seeking an Environmental Impact Assessment for new capacity but there is no result on this either.

Photo: European Commission
The existing plant, a Soviet design with added on Western technology, has not had the best press. Opponents say it is a safety risk. The second reactor in particular had a lot of teething problems when it became operational.

But there are powerful arguments pushing ČEZ to go ahead fast with these plans. It is generating a lot of money and needs to invest it.

There is also the worry that with an expected surge in orders worldwide for new nuclear plants the around half dozen companies that build them will be overloaded and the completion date will be put back even further.

Moves to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of global warming, are also an argument in favour of nuclear. The EU is bringing in charges for carbon allowances in 2013 which will penalise companies producing power from fossil fuels but not nuclear. ČEZ at the moment produces about two thirds of its power from coal and is seeking to shift its energy generation portfolio towards nuclear, renewables and natural gas.

More broadly, the Czech Republic is now a net electricity exporter, about the only one at the moment in Central Europe. But that situation is likely to change within the next six or seven years and it could be faced for the first time in decades with having to import electricity. Backers of nuclear say it is a secure power source although ČEZ has a contract with a Russian company to provide the fuel rods which power its nuclear plants.