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Government stunned by SE Mochovce plans

Stubbornly pursuing its own pro-nuclear energy policy state-controlled electricity utility Slovenské elektrárne [SE] has left government officials dumbfounded after asking several foreign nuclear electricity businesses to invest money into finishing construction of two reactors at the Mochovce nuclear power plant.
The invitation to invest in the power station, revealed in late December by the company, runs against the government's stated aim of discontinuing plans for completing the reactors. The government had said that there was no economic benefit to doing so. The Ministry of Economy has made clear that the government would be providing neither direct nor indirect financial help for construction of the two blocks.


The reactor room at the Mochovce nuclear power station.
photo: TASR

Stubbornly pursuing its own pro-nuclear energy policy state-controlled electricity utility Slovenské elektrárne [SE] has left government officials dumbfounded after asking several foreign nuclear electricity businesses to invest money into finishing construction of two reactors at the Mochovce nuclear power plant.

The invitation to invest in the power station, revealed in late December by the company, runs against the government's stated aim of discontinuing plans for completing the reactors. The government had said that there was no economic benefit to doing so. The Ministry of Economy has made clear that the government would be providing neither direct nor indirect financial help for construction of the two blocks.

"It would be a very bad decision to support the construction of the two Mochovce blocks, as there is zero return potential in that project," said Ondrej Studenec, general director of the energy section at the Ministry of Economy.

Sector analysts have viewed the behaviour of SE as more than strange, positing the theory that a pro-nuclear lobby may have been behind company letters offering information to investors.

Despite the government's policy, in line with its draft energy concept, to move away from nuclear power to alternative energy sources, some coalition members have appeared reluctant to back full-scale moves away from nuclear energy.

Analysts have often criticised the government for its slow pace in dealing with ageing nuclear power plants, claiming that the coalition has bowed to pressure from a pro-nuclear lobby operating within the government, most notably the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), itself closely associated with SE.

According to Marek Jakoby of the MESA 10 economic think-tank in Bratislava, the lobby includes many companies, suppliers and business groups which would like to see government support for massive investments into the nuclear energy sector.

Jakoby said that in trying to find a foreign investor who would invest into the construction of the two Mochovce reactors the lobby may be trying to force the government to change a decision last year to back out of the construction.

"I remember [Ivan] Mikloš [Deputy Prime Minister for Economy] last year, saying that there is not a single serious investor who would go into this project. It might well be that SE and the pro-nuclear lobby are now trying to change the government's mind by saying that there are serious investors interested in financing the construction," Jakoby said.

But the Economy Ministry's Studenec insisted that the ministry's analyses had quite clearly spelled out that contructing the two reactor blocks was economically unsound and that, despite what some had suggested to the contrary, they would not be needed to make up Slovak energy supplies when two reactors at Slovakia's second nuclear plant, Bohunice, are decommissioned between 2006 and 2008.

"Slovakia won't suffer from a lack of energy. Liberalisation on the European electricity market would allow every consumer to choose the cheapest energy available on the continent," Studenec said.

According to Michal Benák, a partner with mergers and acquisitions firm Navigator, in 2008 the electricity market in Europe will be totally uniform. "There will be no borders and probably five or six dominant players on the European electricity market will compete to supply most of the European countries with electricity. After the SE privatisation, Mochovce will probably be under the control of one of them," Benák said.


Economically inviable


Construction costs for the reactors at present total 15 billion crowns [$312.5 million], while an estimated 50 billion crowns [$1.04 billion] on top of that would have to be invested to run both reactors, SE has said. Additional expenses connected with completing the two reactors could amount to $1.5 billion.

Economy Ministry studies have shown that if finished and run to the end of their normal life-span the reactors would make a loss of 29.39 billion crowns.

"I cannot imagine that any investor would be willing to invest such an amount of money into a project and get no profits out of it," Studenec said.

However, according to Mochovce power plant spokesman Rastislav Petrech, the most cost-effective solution would be to finish both reactors, disagreeing with Studenec's theory that the reactors are unimportant for the country's future power needs.

"In 2006 and 2008, when the two reactors at Bohunice are decommisioned, Slovakia will need a replacement. The two Mochovce reactors could definitely make up for the lack of electricity," Petrech said. "It's very strange that government officials don't agree with providing guarantees for finishing the construction," Petrech added.

The majority of Slovakia's electricity production currently comes from Mochovce and Bohunice, both owned and run by SE. Following protests in neighbouring Austria over the commissioning of the Czech Temelín power plant, Bratislava has been under increasing

pressure from the European Union and especially from Austria, to scale down its nuclear programme.

Despite the government's refusal to provide financial assistance, SE remains undaunted in its serach for an investor. Letters to about 50 potential financial investors were sent out at the beginning of November and by the end of 2000, SE claims, replies had been received from potential partners asking for more concrete information on the two Mochovce reactors.

Analysts, though, were surprised that foreign investors had shown any reaction at all to SE's offer.

"I always thought that it was only the Slovak nuclear lobby which was interested in finishing these two reactors. I would be even more surprised if these investors stayed in the game after they receive more concrete material about construction of the Mochovce blocks from SE," said MESA 10's Jakoby.

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