atw 2018-04v6


atw Vol. 63 (2018) | Issue 4 ı April


Czechs and Balances and Why ‘Ugly’

Nuclear Deserves a Political Makeover



John Shepherd



3 Brooklands

West Sussex

BN43 5FE

Links to reference


Dana Drábová


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


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


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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