Areva says readmission to Czech nuclear tender aim of legal fight

By bne IntelliNews September 25, 2013

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As Areva takes the fight over its expulsion from the Czech nuclear tender to the regional court in Brno, the head of the French nuclear group says it isn't seeking compensation from utility CEZ, but wants to be readmitted to the competition.

"We want to be invited into the procedure again, and to be treated fairly. Secondly, we also have to defend the name of our company," Areva CEO Luc Oursel told Hospodarske noviny in an interview published on September 24.

Czech state-controlled utility CEZ disqualified Areva from the tender - estimated to be worth €8bn-12bn - to build two new reactors at the Temelin nuclear power plant in October claiming "serious shortcomings" in the preliminary bid. This left the Russian-Czech consortium of Atomstroyexport, Skoda JS and Gidropress to duke it out with the Japanese-US firm Westinghouse.

Since being ousted, Areva has launched numerous appeals. All, thus far, have failed. The latest flop came on July 26, when the chairman of the Czech antimonopoly office (UOHS), Petr Rafaj, said Areva had not met the tendering conditions.

Oursel said on September 20 that Areva filed a complaint with the Regional Court in Brno, where the Czech antimonopoly office is based. An application for a preliminary injunction to either suspend the tender or prevent CEZ from singing a contract with a winner has also been submitted.

"We have serious misgivings and concerns over the way the antitrust authority dealt with our protest," Oursel told the paper. "Over the course of their review, the authority, and later its president, clearly ignored certain very important evidence. The antitrust authority did not act as the impartial body it is supposed to be when pursuing the relevant EU directives We believe that the antitrust authority's decision regarding our protest casts serious doubt upon the whole procurement procedure."

As an example, Oursel cited the fact that Areva asked UOHS to obtain all documents that would enable it analyse the French offer and compare it to the bids of its Russian and US competitors. "This is the only way of finding out whether or not we were discriminated against. It is widely known that CEZ was discussing and clarifying many more questions with our competitors than with Areva," he said. "UOHS didn't request a single document about our exclusion from the tender. "

Asked whether Areva intends to continue its legal complaints all the way to Brussels, Oursel said the way its exclusion from the tender has been handled by UOHS couldn't have failed to attract the attention of the European Commission. "We know that the commission has been monitoring the whole case. Nuclear projects are extremely important and a high degree of transparency is absolutely crucial. In addition, we are talking about a public contract. Today's Europe, a continent with strong media and no borders, calls for maximum transparency."

Even without Areva's legal challenges, the tender is in trouble. On July 23, CEZ was forced to admit that its goal to pick a winner and sign the contract by the end of 2013 is unlikely to be met because of the collapse of the centre-right government. The signing of a final contract may now be delayed until the autumn of 2014, said Pavel Cyrani, a CEZ board member.

"CEZ decided to postpone the selection of a winning bid. Other considerations aside, this clearly shows that they were not really happy with the bids," claims Oursel.

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