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Czechs advance plan to add 2 nuclear reactors

| Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011

PRAGUE -- Four major international nuclear players have been handed detailed technical documentation to allow them to make multibillion-dollar tenders to build two more nuclear reactors at the Czech Temelin nuclear power station.

The state-run power utility CEZ issued a public tender two years ago for the construction of two more reactor units to accompany the plant's existing two 1,000-megawatt units.

The move is part of an energy plan to dramatically increase the country's nuclear power production, which could sour relations with some of the country's neighbors -- especially Germany, which has decided to shelve its nuclear plans since Japan's nuclear disaster earlier this year.

Austria has said it will try to stop the Czechs because the plant is near its border.

Four bidders -- U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Co., a subsidiary of Japan's Toshiba Corp., France's state-owned nuclear engineering giant Areva SA and a consortium led by Russia's Atomstroyexport -- are competing.

The binding bids should be submitted by July 2, 2012, and a deal with the winner is expected to be signed by the end of 2013, CEZ chief executive Daniel Benes said on Monday.

The two new reactors are expected to be operational by 2025, Benes said.

Czech Republic's six nuclear reactors produce one-third of its electricity. The country plans to double that output in the next 50 years.

A Czech government minister said plans to reduce carbon emissions are linked to increased relliance on nuclear power.

"If we want to remain competitive and significantly reduce emissions, we can't do without nuclear energy," Industry and Trade Minister Martin Kocourek said.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger has vowed to use any legal and political means to stop the Czechs.

Construction of the Temelin plant near the Austrian border started in the 1980s. It was based on Russian designs, but the reactors were later upgraded with U.S. technology. The plant has remained controversial because of frequent malfunctions, mostly in the non-nuclear parts, drawing protests from Austria.

Czech authorities insist the plant is safe.

Anders Jackson, chief of Westinghouse Electric's European operations, called the Czechs' decision "one of the biggest opportunities we see in Europe" and claimed his company was ready to address safety issues.

Jackson said his company's technology would withstand the type of disaster that struck Japan.

President Obama discussed the lucrative tender -- whose value is estimated at more than $10 billion -- in his talks with Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas last week in Washington.

The issue is expected to be high on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's agenda during his December trip to Prague.

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