4 months ago

atw 2018-04v6


atw Vol. 63 (2018) | Issue 4 ı April 270 Czechs and Balances and Why ‘Ugly’ Nuclear Deserves a Political Makeover NUCLEAR TODAY Author John Shepherd Shepherd Communications 3 Brooklands West Sussex BN43 5FE Links to reference sources: Dana Drábová interview: European Investment Bank announcement: Yonhap News Agency report: As if Europe does not have enough on its plate to deal with at the moment – politically and economically just for starters – could Brussels be on a collision course with the Czech government over the country's plans to expand nuclear energy? There is certainly friction over the issue between Prague and the European Commission (EC), to put it mildly. But why? The veteran head of the Czech Republic’s State Office for Nuclear Safety, Dana Drábová, last month accused other EU member states of “pressurising” Prague over the early closure of its oldest nuclear reactor units. Drábová reportedly told an energy conference in the country: “There is immense pressure developing that the operating life of nuclear reactors will be limited to 40 years. That means that our political representatives, whoever they might be, sometime around 2023 will face a battle over a further 10-year extension for Dukovany. The current State Energy Framework counts on the lifetime of the Dukovany reactors ending sometime between 2030 and 2040.” The nuclear safety chief later told Czech Radio the pressure was coming from “the 14 countries which are not using nuclear power and some of which regard it as something ugly”. If the pressure continued, she predicted there would be a concerted “willingness… to get rid of these nuclear plants in Europe as fast as possible”. Drábová’s comments came against a backdrop of the Czech government saying it would appoint an expert team to consider proposals to break up the majority state-owned electricity firm CEZ. The move was one of several options mooted to support financing of the construction of a new nuclear power plant at Dukovany. Analysts say the new nuclear plant could be built by the traditional energy unit, which would be fully state-owned and therefore in the best position to take on the risks of high costs that the utility could not if it were an entity with private owners. Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš is backing proposals to build the Dukovany reactor, around 50 kilometres north of the (anti nuclear) Austrian border, to replace a Soviet-era reactor. But this would mean persuading the EC to exempt the project from strict EU rules on government bids. If the Czech government fails in its quest, it could consider doing a deal with Russia, which would undoubtedly be very much along the lines of the nuclear construction and financing deal Moscow signed recently with EU member Hungary. If, dear reader, you now have a sense of déjà vu, you would be right. You may recall that Hungary went through a similar nuclear battle with the EC, despite Hungary’s parliament fully backing proposals to build two new nuclear reactor units in that country. Initially, the EC said in November 2015 it had started legal action against Hungary over a contract signed with Russia’s Rosatom to build two units at the existing Paks plant. Brussels expressed concern about the project’s compatibility with EU public procurement rules. However, the EC eventually cleared the issue and a state aid investigation into the project financing for the ‘Paks II’ project was subsequently dropped by the EC. There was a similar clash with the EC when the UK first unveiled plans to invest in building the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. So is the latest tussle between Prague and Brussels really over concerns about state-aid rules or is it more a worrying trend of interference to stop nuclear in its tracks? And is the conflict really worth it…? Czech PM Babiš said following an official visit to Hungary last January, where he attended a summit of prime ministers of the Visegrad Group countries, that he and Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán discussed the potential for “further developing” cooperation in sectors such as the nuclear energy industry. But far more intriguing was what Babiš claimed was the attitude of Visegrad leaders about relations with the institutions of the EU. According to a statement issued by the Czech government, Babiš said the leaders agreed it was “necessary to depoliticise Brussels and the EC”. Apparently, the leaders believe that when it comes to EU affairs, “ member states, prime ministers and presidents, should have the main say”, according to Babiš. If there is behind-the-scenes pressure to stamp out nuclear wherever it might try to cling on or prosper in the EU, where is that effort coming from and why? Of course, it is no secret that Austria and Germany strongly oppose any expansion of nuclear power in Europe. Having lived and worked in Germany, I never understood that politically- inspired decision – but as a guest in the country for which I have great admiration I respect its decision. Austria’s approach has always puzzled me more – being willing as it is to host the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and enjoy all the ‘fruits’ that that privilege brings, not least in the economic benefit of having the agency based in Vienna. But back to the Czech project. As a possible fight with the EC shapes up, it is not only Moscow that is set to benefit from yet another new nuclear power order from an EU nation. South Korea is also reportedly circling – keen to tempt Prague to consider its nuclear technology, according to Seoul’s Yonhap News Agency. Can the EU really afford such a quarrel – again – with a member state over nuclear? And why should European skills, knowhow and investment not be channelled into the Czech nuclear project? I am struck by the EC’s approach to another industrial sector and how contrasting it is. The EC is currently working at full tilt to develop a European battery cell industry, with the goal of ensuring the EU is not overwhelmed by competition from Asian battery makers for products such as electric vehicles and energy storage devices. The EU’s vice-president for the energy union, Maroš Šefčovič, said in February “there are many extremely interesting actions that we need to pursue, including (a) simplification of approval procedures and permitting processes in the EU”. Indeed the European Investment Bank has already approved a loan for the construction and operation of what it said will be a first-of-a-kind demonstration plant in Sweden, for the manufacturing of lithium- ion batteries. The EC’s support for the development of such technology across EU member states is of course admirable, but one hears nothing of state-aid rules and complications here! Why is it that nuclear cannot win such favourable attention and support? Does it really have to be this way – and hasn’t the EC learned anything from the UK’s Brexit vote about treading carefully in issues that are seen by member states of national importance? Nuclear Today Czechs and Balances and Why ‘Ugly’ Nuclear Deserves a Political Makeover ı Jubair Ahmed Shamim and Kune Yull Suh

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