Czech minister backs down on nuclear energy boom, battles EU power bid

The plug appears to have been pulled on an unprecedented surge of new nuclear power construction in the Czech Republic 

Čtyři ze šesti českých reaktorů, konkrétně v Dukovanech (na snímku), nemají masivní ochrannou obálku, zvanou kontejnment. foto: © ČESKÁ POZICEČeská pozice

Čtyři ze šesti českých reaktorů, konkrétně v Dukovanech (na snímku), nemají masivní ochrannou obálku, zvanou kontejnment.

Recently installed Czech Minister for Industry and Trade Martin Kuba (Civic Democrat, ODS) has retreated from his predecessor’ s plans for the country to launch a nuclear energy boom over the next decades.

Kuba said in an interview carried in Wednesday’s edition of the business daily Hospodářské noviny (HN) that proposals under predecessor Martin Kocourek (ODS) for up to 18 new nuclear reactors sited across the country by 2060 were unrealistic.

“To produce in the Czech Republic up to 80 percent of electricity from nuclear is not realistic from an economic perspective. We would not even know where to put the new plants,” Kuba told the paper. He added that a more realistic plan would be to construct just the two planned extra new reactors at the Temelín site in southern Bohemia and extend the lifetime of the existing Dukovany nuclear reactor until 2035.

‘To produce in the Czech Republic up to 80 percent of electricity from nuclear is not realistic from an economic perspective.’

Near 70 percent state-owned power company ČEZ is currently in the middle of a tender to select a constructor for the two Temelín reactors with CEO Daniel Beneš commenting recently that a further reactor at Dukovany was a possible follow-up measure.

Kocourek’s proposal for a Czech nuclear boom, flying in the face of moves in many European countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, to phase out nuclear power following the Fukushima, Japan, plant accident last year, was made in a series of options setting out a 50-year blueprint for the Czech energy sector.

The massive switch to nuclear was based on the scenario of  a surge in electricity demand, with cars, for example, switching from fossils fuels. The move was justified on the grounds that it would cut expensive imports of oil and natural gas and increase the country’s energy independence. The idea of an extra 18 nuclear power plants, when the process for constructing an extra two already planned for at Temelín was already progressing slowly, were widely ridiculed when first unveiled and labeled as megalomaniac.

The delayed national energy concept is now expected to be finalized in June though Kuba is currently unwilling to go into details about what sort of energy mix it could favor for the county long-term. Currently around half of electricity production comes from coal-fired power plants, nuclear adding another third, and renewable and gas-fired plants making up the remainder.

Kuba hit out in the HN article at comment’s from European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger suggesting that Brussels should be able to set out national energy choices from 2014. “That sort of thinking is unimaginable,” Kuba said, adding that national energy choices had to be based on the economic and climatic conditions of individual states.

‘I believe that national states are a lot more competent coming up with whatever solutions.’

His criticism was echoed by the Czech government’s appointee to supervise the expansion  of  Temelín, Václav Bartuška. “When the European Union can show its capacity to solve problems, for example, in the areas of banking and the common currency, we could consider putting our trust in it to deal with energy,” Bartuška said in a separate interview with HN. “Until that time comes I would certainly not do it. I believe that national states are a lot more competent coming up with whatever solutions,” he added.

The Czech Republic has over the last year been under pressure from neighbors, such as Germany and Austria, to abandon its already stated nuclear expansion plans. Oettinger’s Geman nationality and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) origins, the same as Chancellor Angela Merkel, make him a figure of suspicion for the Czechs following the CDU-led coalition’s nuclear renunciation.

In one sense, however, national states already gave ground on their absolute rights to set national energy policy when they agreed to EU-wide targets for renewable energy production to be met by 2020. The Czech Republic has chafed at such targets, which members of the leading government coalition party, the ODS, in particular complain have set unrealistic goals for renewables and helped spark an expensive solar power boom. Legislative underpinning of the solar boom was, however, drawn up in the Czech Republic with suspicions that business interests were involved and helped delay remedial measures which could have cut the cost which will have to be met by taxpayers for years to come.