Nuclear options: Czechs bar Chinese firm from tender but not equal Russian ‘security risk’

Dukovany nuclear power plant, photo: IAEA Imagebank, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On Monday, the State Security Council formally agreed on tasking the security services with conducting a detailed risk assessment of four potential bidders to expand the country’s Dukovany nuclear power plant. The government announced previously that it would not invite Chinese firms to participate. But the Russian firm Rosatom was not excluded, despite warnings that suppliers from both countries pose security risks.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s cabinet views boosting nuclear power as the only viable way to wean the Czech Republic off coal and meet the European Union’s environmental goals. But he has postponed the 6 billion euro Dukovany tender until after the October elections, to allow for the thorough security review.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Chinese company CGN will not be considered for the major contract. That leaves four bidders in the running to lead the massive project: France’s EdF, South Korea’s KNHP, the US-Canadian Westinghouse, and Russia’s Rosatom.

Jan Bartošek,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

MP Jan Bartošek of the opposition Christian Democrats is among those seeking to block Russian participation in the Dukovany tender. He told Czech Television that the newly announced security assessment is redundant.

“We have been collecting this information for more than five years. And the government has twice already confirmed the fact that Rosatom and the Chinese firm are a security risk for us.”

In June, a Senate committee called specifically for CGN and Rosatom to be excluded from a planned tender process. In a December resolution, the upper house said it considered it “undesirable that companies which are hostile to NATO countries or whose representatives are on EU sanctions lists be involved in the strategic construction of the nuclear bloc”.

Minister of Industry and Trade Karel Havlíček has emphasized that just the security review is just that – a review – and does not necessarily reflect the final list of bidders.

“We cannot say definitively at this point which of them will want to continue and if so in which consortium. We are not in a tender phase. As I said last week, it entails a so-called security assessment. Call it was you like.”

Karel Havlíček,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

The government and opposition leaders agreed to exclude the Chinese bidder at the beginning of this year. Some opposition figures say the decision to include the Russian one was done to win Communist support for extending the state of emergency, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But according to Havlíček, Rosatom remains a possible candidate despite earlier warnings from security services because Russia is a key energy partner of the Czech Republic. He said the government now wants to assess nuclear, cyber and geopolitical security concerns, drawing on analysis by the ministries of the interior and foreign affairs, as well as the National Office for Cyber and Information Security.

Work on the planned nuclear unit at Dukovany should begin in 2029, with a view to it going into trial operation seven years later. The investment would be among the biggest in modern Czech history.