South Koreans put themselves forward for future Temelín tender

Temelín nuclear power plant, photo: Filip Jandourek

Czech media made much on Tuesday of the announcement by South Korean Ministry of Energy officials that they are looking for the country to participate in a further tender to build nuclear plants at the Temelín site in south Bohemia, if one is held.

Temelín nuclear power plant, photo: Filip Jandourek
But the news does not come out of a totally blue sky, so to speak. President Miloš Zeman had already said the Korean participation could be expected and Minister of Trade and Industry Jan Mládek had gone even further by mentioning Korean state nuclear company KEPCO as a likely future contestant in a new tender when the previous Temelín tender was scrapped by ČEZ in April.

The logic for the South Koreans, who have jumped up the list of foreign investors in the Czech Republic in recent months with the expected opening the Nexen tyre company plant and a factory producing car parts near Ostrava, to participate is compelling.

President Zeman previously called for French constructor Areva to be brought back into the previous Temelín tender on the grounds that three competitors would get a better price for the state than two, Westinghouse and the Russian-led consortium MIR-1200. Four competitors would, according to the same logic, be even better.

The South Koreans are currently still committed to a solid nuclear expansion to keep up with their energy needs and provide around 30 percent of their power by 2035. Five nuclear plants are under construction, another four are planned, which would mean another six to eight in the longer term pipeline to meet the overall target of 40-42 reactors in total.

KEPCO, which is 51 percent state owned and boasts a strong commitment to contracting a large part of work to local suppliers in export contracts, is currently under contract to build a nuclear power plant in Saudi Arabia, its first nuclear power plant export order. Four APR1400 reactors are being constructed there. US-based Westinghouse is one of the sub-contractors on the Braka project. Exporting nuclear technology is said to be a high priority for the South Korean government.

While South Korea boasts that its nuclear power plants are some of the most reliable and efficient nuclear power plants in the world, the revelation of falsified safety documents led to three reactors being closed for checks in 2013. Meanwhile, the Temelín tender closed only in April is not likely to be reopened very soon. ČEZ supervisory board chairman Václav Pačes said a new tender could happen as quickly as next year. The company said later though that no specific preparations with this regard are being taken and that it is still waiting for clear signs of what future Czech energy policy will be.

The government in turn is still waiting for indications over the future rewards and incentives that will be offered to low carbon power sources as the result of any European and worldwide climate change deal. Those signals are not likely to be tangible until the end of autumn at the earliest. And the government will then have to decide whether it wants to give ČEZ another shot at holding a tender or creating a special state company that would be tasked with construction.

In the meantime, the situation in neighbouring Slovakia, who government is also keen to build a new nuclear reactor or two, might become clearer with Italian power company ENEL likely to have decided whether or not to sell up its two-thirds stake in dominant power producer Slovenské Elektrárne.

South Korean interest in Czech nuclear has been stirred and a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement signed this year, but the fruits could take a lot of time to develop.