The nuclear power plant that towers over the green fields outside
the small Czech village of Temelin is quickly becoming a frontline
in the economic rivalry between the United States and Russia.
Companies with ties to both countries are vying for a contract to
build two new reactors at the site, a move that analysts say could
open new nuclear energy markets across the region.
"The energy equation has changed.... [Globally] nuclear energy is
in decline, says Michal Snobr, an energy analyst at the Czech J&T
Bank. "The Temelin contract is not about nuclear energy in the Czech
Republic, but about breaking into the European market.
Competing for the tender are two energy companies: Russias
Rosatom, and Westinghouse, which is owned by the Japanese Toshiba
Group but based in the United States.
For Prague, the proposed expansion of the Temelin plant will help
it meet the European Union's guidelines on "diversifying" energy
sources and lessening dependence on Russian gas and oil. It is also
expected to create thousands of jobs at a time when the Czech
economy has been particularly sluggish. At a cost of at least $10
billion, it will be the most costly public project ever in the
countrys short history.
For the nuclear industry, that's a bonanza. The tender in the
Czech Republic is the most lucrative contract on offer anywhere in
the world for the industry, which has suffered a popularity decline
in recent years, particularly since the March 2011 accident at
Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Opening markets in Europe
In Europe, only France and Finland are constructing reactors and
Germany has decided to unplug all 17 of its nuclear reactors by
2022. But the Temelin deal could open new markets in Poland,
Hungary, Slovenia, and Bulgaria, Mr. Snobr says.
And politically, it is of great interest to both Moscow and
"We're not shy about pressing the case for Westinghouse to expand
the Temelin nuclear power plant, because we believe that company
offers the best option in terms of safety and technology," said then-
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during a visit to Prague
"It would clearly enhance Czech energy security and it would
create job opportunities for Czechs and Americans [and] ensure the
new facility would be built to the highest international standards."
Washington has urged the Czechs to do more to generate their own
energy, pointing to the fact the country gets 60 percent of its gas
and 70 percent of its oil from Russia.
Red flags and spies
The Czech Republics main security agency, Security Information
Service, has raised red flags about doing business with Russia,
warning in a 2009 report that the Kremlin was using Russian business
to infiltrate NATO states with spies. …