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Central Europe still believes in nuclear power, despite the growing safety and financial risks

Central Europe keeps the nuclear faith, DW, 2 May 17  The financial and geo-political risks attached to nuclear power are rising, but Central Europe’s belief is unshakable. Tom Gosling reports from Prague. Nuclear power is facing a fight for its life. Increased safety concerns, weak energy markets, and shifting technological potential look to be pulling the rug from under the 20th-century dream of a nuclear future of clean, cheap and plentiful energy. Struggling projects across the Visegrad region illustrate the difficulties.

In spite of the shadows cast by Chernobyl and Fukushima, and the pickle in which US-Japanese giant Westinghouse finds itself, nuclear remains at the forefront of national energy strategy in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

The projects have spent years treading water, and many are thought unlikely to ever become a reality. Yet in contrast to many countries to the west, it’s not public opinion but hard cash that’s the problem.

“Nuclear is a religion in Visegrad,” announces Jan Haverkamp of Greenpeace CEE (Central and Eastern Europe). “There is no discussion of investment risk or real safety concerns. The only thing discussed is who will pay for the initial project.”

No business for private investors

That sticking point has seen a longstanding political scrap in the Czech Republic flare up again ahead of elections later this year. The expansion of the nuclear fleet is the central plank in the country’s long-term energy strategy, but no one wants to stump up the 300 billion Czech crowns (11 billion euros; $12 billion) it would cost……..

While the public may be convinced, nuclear projects are too rich and too risky for private investors. Prague’s efforts to push Czech state-controlled energy group CEZ into building new units face a “big obstacle” in the form of private shareholders, says Petr Bartek, an analyst at Erste Group.

However, squeezed by financial constraints and EU regulation, states are not keen either. The Czech government insists it will not offer power price guarantees – a stance that saw CEZ scrap an eight-billion-euro tender in 2014.

Even when the state is ready to play a role, it doesn’t necessarily work out. Slovakia’s project to expand the Mochovce plant is hugely over budget and delayed by several years. The problems provoked a bitter spat with project partner Enel, and the Italian utility plans to exit the country, handing local oligarchs greater leverage over the energy market as it goes……..

While Prague insists an open tender remains the preferred route, analysts are skeptical that the cash for new Visegrad nuclear plants will be found anywhere but Moscow or Beijing.

However, not everyone is keen on help from outside. Fearing leverage from abroad, the nationalist Polish government has recently gone back to the drawing board on financing plans for the country’s first nuclear plant, which would cost around 10 billion euros…….

May 3, 2017 - Posted by | EUROPE, politics

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