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18 Apr, 2021 15:37

Russia’s Rosatom likely to get barred from $7-bn Dukovany nuclear plant tender, Czech minister says, amid ammo depot blast scandal

Russia’s Rosatom likely to get barred from $7-bn Dukovany nuclear plant tender, Czech minister says, amid ammo depot blast scandal

Russia's Rosatom will likely be barred from tendering for refurbishing the Dukovany nuclear power plant, the Czech industry minister said, amid scandal over a 2014 munitions depot blast, blamed by Prague on Russian intelligence.

The Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation will likely be kicked out of the pre-qualification round for the Dukovany project, Czech Industry Minister Karel Havlicek said on Sunday.

“I can't imagine that Rosatom would be in the safety assessment at this moment,” he told local TV.

The move comes after Prague accused Russia’s military intelligence of being involved in an incident at a munitions depot in the village of Vrbetice, some 330km southeast of Prague, back in 2014. The depot was rocked by a series of explosions that killed two employees of a private company, which had been renting a warehouse from the military at the facility.

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Prague opted to expel 18 Russian embassy staff over the country’s alleged involvement in the attack, while local police have also placed two Russian citizens on the wanted list over "serious crime." The pair turned out to be Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – the same two individuals, accused by the UK of "poisoning" former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury back in March 2018. The now infamous duo had previously denied any links to Russian military intelligence.

Given Havlicek's statement, the contest for Dukovany project is now expected to shrink even further. Back in January, China General Nuclear was barred from participating in the pre-tender security assessment, in which companies are to describe their structure of bids and supply chain, as well as to address cybersecurity issues, among other requirements. Russia's Rosatom, was allowed to take part in the assessment, as Havlicek described Russia as "key energy partner" back in March.

“Basically, we are all inclined to believe that China is unthinkable as a potential supplier for us in the tender,” said Havlícek. “At the same time, the political parties are divided in that certain politicians would like to exclude Russia as well, while others want it to remain.”

According to media reports, multiple security services of the EU and NATO countries had repeatedly urged Prague to bar the Russian corporation from taking part in the contest.

Other companies allowed into the security assessment round include the French EDF, South Korean Hydro & Nuclear Power as well as the American-Canadian Westinghouse. The latter has received thinly-veiled support from Washington, which has openly called on Prague to prioritize its “national security” above everything else while picking contestants for the Dukovany tender.

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“The decision on the tender for Dukovany is entirely in the Czech Republic. However, we urge the government to conduct a transparent selection process that prioritizes national security,” spokesman for US embassy in Prague, Griffin Rozell, told local media earlier this month.

“We would like to emphasize what Secretary of State Blinken said. Beijing and Moscow are increasingly using access to critical resources, markets and technology to put pressure on our allies and drive a wedge between us. We must not separate economic coercion from other forms of coercion.”

Dukovany nuclear power plant, which covers around a fifth of the electricity consumption in the country, was launched back in 1985. The Soviet-era design originally had a 30-year lifetime, yet its majority state-controlled operator CEZ plans to keep it running for 60 years. The plant boasts four power units, with a capacity of 510 megawatt each. Under the refurbishment project, estimated to cost more than seven billion dollars, the plant will receive a new 1,200 megawatt-strong power unit.

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