One of the more problematic Soviet legacies of the USSR’s nearly five-decade domination of Eastern Europe is a series of nuclear power plants. The Soviet nuclear legacy includes two reactors at Kozloduy in Bulgaria, six reactors in the Czech Republic and six reactors in Slovakia, 15 reactors in Ukraine, four reactors at Hungary’s Paks Nuclear Power Plant,
Romania, Eastern Europe’s “maverick” state under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, went for Canadian nuclear power designs for its two reactors at Cernavoda. Lithuania’s two reactors at its Ignalina NPP were closed in 2009.
But, despite the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine and last year’s catastrophe at Japan’s six reactor Fukushima Daiichi NPP, a number of Eastern European countries, most notably the Czech Republic, are considering expanding their NPPs facilities, which brings up an interesting question – whose technology to choose?
Russian Atomstroiekhsport designs?
Or possibly, Japanese or South Korean companies?
The field for lucrative contracts is wide open, and the U.S., in the person of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is lobbying fiercely in Prague for the Czech government to “buy American.” At the beginning of a five day visit to Eastern Europe Clinton told Prime Minister Petr Necas and her Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg that the U.S. company Westinghouse was the nation’s best choice for constructing the proposed Temelin NPP expansion.
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Clinton said, "The Czech Republic deserves the best price, technology and employment opportunities. Westinghouse offers all this."
In a not so veiled swipe at the Russian offer made by the Czech-Russian consortium MIR.2000 Clinton added that Westinghouse offered the “safest technology.”
Despite the disasters mentioned above the Czech government has long experience with nuclear power and is determined to proceed. The Czechoslovakian government’s first commercial NPP began operating in 1985 and its current six nuclear reactors generate 3,472 megawatt hours, allowing the country to export electricity. During the period 1990-2005, the Czech Republic posted the largest increase in nuclear energy capacity (114 percent) and energy production (96 percent) of any European Union nation, exporting 24,985 gigawatt hours in 2005.
Czech nuclear specialists are now evaluating the competing reactor designs offered by MIR.2000 and Westinghouse. According to Temelin NPP former head Frantisek Hezoucky, the largest design difference is in the construction of the containment that protects the reactor. MIR.2000 design is based on a solution used for small reactors, while the Westinghouse proposal represents a revolutionary technology that has not been time-tested anywhere yet, Hezoucky noted. The Westinghouse AP1000 reactor has a steel containment, so its external surface may be used to dissipate heat in case of an accident. Summing up, Hezoucky said, "the AP1000 is a revolutionary project with a number of interesting solutions that have not been used anywhere yet. The first reactors of this type will be those that are being built in Sanmen in China at present. MIR.1200, on the other hand, is an evolutionary project leaning on time-tested solutions from two minor reactors operated in Tianwan in China."
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Clinton was forceful in her lobbying, telling her hosts, "We are not shy about pressing the case for Westinghouse. We believe that company offers the best option for the project in terms of technology and safety. It would clearly enhance Czech energy security and further the nuclear cooperation between our countries, and it would create jobs and economic opportunity for Czechs and Americans."
For Clinton, the final deal clincher would be that it would help wean the Czech economy off its dependency on energy exports from the Russian Federation, ranging from oil and natural gas through uranium. The Czech Republic currently receives virtually all of its nuclear fuel from the Russian Federation, along with 60 percent of its oil and 70 percent of its natural gas imports, a situation of energy vulnerability for a NATO member.
The Czech government is expected to make a decision next year, with the reactors coming online roughly a decade later.
So, who will win the titanic struggle for the Czech Republic’s nuclear future? There are already dark mutterings inside the Beltway that the Russian consortium has secured an inside advantage through the liberal use of bribes. In any case, Prague in the interim can expect more high pressure lobbying from both Washington’s finest and the Kremlin. The other prediction is that if Westinghouse loses, then the Czech government had better expect a blizzard of lawsuits from Westinghouse about how the final contract was awarded.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com