France's EDF seen as favourite as Czech nuclear tender enters next stage

France's EDF seen as favourite as Czech nuclear tender enters next stage
Dukovany in the Vysocina region in the southeast of the country could be the site of two new reactors. / bne IntelliNews
By Albin Sybera April 30, 2024

The deadline for submitting final bids in the huge Czech nuclear tender is today, April 30. After the surprise ejection of America's Westinghouse, only the French EDF and South Korean KHNP are set to submit bids for what could be the largest investment in the country’s history, with EDF seen as the favourite. 

The tender originally began with an aim to enhance the older of the two nuclear sites in the country – Dukovany in the Vysocina region in the southeast of the country – with one unit, but the remaining bidders are now invited to submit offers for up to four units, two at Dukovany and two at the country's other NPP, Temelin.

The majority state-owned energy utility CEZ will take until mid-June to review the submitted offers and recommend the better one to the country’s government.  

It is already clear that the estimated price of CZK160bn (€6.4bn), which the Czech government calculated in 2020, will be exceeded, something critics of the investment have repeatedly pointed out and the Czech press now openly acknowledges. The tender comes as Czechia still underperforms in the development of faster and cheaper renewable sources of energy.

The country's media refer to the French EDF as a favourite, pointing out the growing cooperation between EDF and Czech companies.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Prague in March when he spoke of the “nuclear renaissance” in Europe, and EDF’s Vice President Vakis Ramany made it clear that EDF wants to be in the front seat of the renaissance, which can come both as a costly affair for Czechia in the decades to come and is also bound to shape country’s power grid as well as ongoing changes in the legislation concerning nuclear waste disposal.  

“We have experience with this. We have done this in France and Great Britain, and based on this experience, we know how to achieve this restart in Czechia,” Ramany was quoted as saying by Czech business daily Hospordarske noviny recently.

British Hinkley Point C in southwestern England is EDF’s largest nuclear project outside of France and has been pointed out by EDF’s officials in Czechia as an example of how EDF involves local companies in the works on the site.

British companies took part in some 64% of the value of the contract at Hinkley Point C, and the head of EDF’s Czech arm, Roman Zdebor, said that “we plan to use the same model of localisation, that is the same percentage for Czech companies”, which should include suppliers of electricity systems, construction works as well as suppliers for the nuclear part.

Czechia has had a vibrant nuclear industry since the 1970s and 80s when it was developed under the heavy influence of the Soviet state companies, the usual modus operandi in the Cold War era Soviet-controlled Eastern bloc.

The Soviet era shadow in the Czech nuclear industry also influenced the shape of the current tender when the Russian nuclear state agency Rosatom, whose arm also services the military nuclear programme, was prevented from taking part in the tender by the sitting centre-right government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala.

Following the 2021 revelations of the Russian special units’ involvement in the 2014 explosions at the Vrbetice ammunition depot and following the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Czechia has also paid increased attention to the Russian ownership in the Czech nuclear companies.

In 2022, CEZ completed the takeover of the main Czech nuclear company, Skoda JS, to avoid further sanctions against the company. Skoda JS was controlled by Gazprombank through the engineering group OMZ.

However, local analysts have pointed out that EDF has not yet been able to sever its own ties with Russia and has still been importing nuclear fuel components from Russian companies despite declarations to end such cooperation.