By the Blouin News Business staff

Controversial Czech nuclear plan may get French help

by in Europe.

The Temelín nuclear power plant, Czech Republic. Getty Images

The Temelín nuclear power plant, Czech Republic. Getty Images

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced on Sunday that state-controlled utility Electricite de France (EDF) will be part of the tender to build new nuclear reactors for the Czech Republic. Presently, the Czech Republic has six reactors that provide approximately 35% of the country’s electricity, and the government is strongly pushing the sector’s expansion. In early June it released an energy plan for 2040, at which point nuclear power is predicted to account for 46-58% of Czech electricity generation. But this plan is by no means controversy-free.

Four new reactors are expected to be built to achieve this higher percentage. However, the government has not provided a guaranteed electricity price, so there is major uncertainty over the viability of this National Action Plan. If base load electricity prices grow to about $93/MWh by 2035, the Ministry of Industry and Trade assumes that these new reactors will be viable without any subsidies. However, if those prices remain near the current low level (of around $37/MWh) then massive and enduring subsidies would be needed. Just the preliminary project work to be carried out by current nuclear operator ČEZ (in which the Czech government owns a majority of stock) through 2025 will cost a bit over $1 billion. And only then will the government decide whether to publicly finance this project or not.

Perhaps to win over political support, the plan also risks underestimating nuclear energy investment costs. It anticipates reactor investment costs of about $5,220/kW — much less than real-world expenses which have ranged from approximately $6,970-11,325/kW. There is also no contingency plan if construction gets behind schedule or over budget. In fact, the Czech Republic’s two reactors at its Temelín plant were finished 6 years late and $1.85 billion over budget. Even France, with its 58 reactors that provided 77% of its electricity in 2014, is experiencing major delays and cost overruns with new reactors EDF is constructing in its own territory.

That said, a poll carried out in May found that some 45% of Czechs are happy with the current state of the country’s nuclear power capacity, and another 22% are in favor of its expansion. Despite the possibility of higher-than-anticipated costs, at least nuclear energy emits far less CO2 than burning fossil fuels. Advocates for giving renewable energy top priority are disappointed, but the nuclear option is still a decent one on environmental and energy-security grounds.