Czech energy giant boosts nuclear output but big questions remain

The Czech Republic’s dominant electricity producer and long time state cash cow, ČEZ, is seeing boosted production from its nuclear power plants after coming through a rough patch. And intense interest is focused on a possible split of the company in a bid to fund more nuclear reactors.

Temelín nuclear power plant, photo: Filip JandourekTemelín nuclear power plant, photo: Filip Jandourek ČEZ boasted this week a surge in power production from its Dukovany and Temelín nuclear power plants after coming through a rough patch in the last two years with prolonged unscheduled outages due to flawed checks in the past. Many of those have been caused by inadequate X-ray checks on pipes at both power plants carried out by a sub-contractor with the energy giant having to scramble to carry out new examinations and review its past moves to hive off work to outside companies.

And bosses were upbeat that those problems are behind it and new licenses needed for operating the last two reactors at its oldest plant, Dukovany, will be granted by the nuclear watchdog by the end of this year.

Already this year ČEZ says output from its nuclear plants has climbed by 9.0 percent compared with 2016 to hit 20.4 TWh. The nuclear plants have helped cover a 6.0 percent drop in electricity produced from its coal-fired plants. And ČEZ’s Martin Novák added that the improved performance should continue to the end of the year and beyond:

"We plan to significantly increase [2017] nuclear output by 18 percent to 28.4 TWh. In the future we will be aiming above 30 TWh, which is the technological maximum of our power plants."

But a lot of interest in the Czech Republic and outside is focused on ČEZ’s future moves over nuclear power, more specifically whether and how it might push ahead with construction of at least two new nuclear reactors to fulfil the country’s long term energy plans.

In particular, the government, the dominant near 70 percent shareholder in ČEZ, put out in June three scenarios for building the new nuclear plants. These include the idea that the state could take over the plans and push ahead on its own. Another option is that ČEZ pushes ahead with some sort of government guarantees, perhaps on the price of nuclear produced power, to helps cover the massive costs of such a venture. And the last, and perhaps most controversial is that ČEZ is split with some parts, perhaps its renewables and distribution assets sold off, and the state increasing its shareholding in the nuclear and coal power production activities so that it can proceed with nuclear expansion without worries about protests from minority shareholders.

Photo: European CommissionPhoto: European Commission ČEZ bosses are grappling with the question of how such a split in the company could go ahead, bringing in outside consultants to help it clarify its position and looking at how this proceeded with big energy companies in neighbouring Germany.

And the clock is ticking for conclusions to be reached by ČEZ and the government on the three options with an initial target for a decision on the three options to be taken by March 2018. But with no Czech government still in sight after recent elections, some slippage in that deadline can be expected and the prospect of at least one new reactor ready by 2035 could begin to look unlikely.