National Security

The Czech Nuclear Fade: Where Do They Get Electricity if Putin Gets Angry?

Yesterday’s article about Nord Stream II focused on Russia’s efforts to control the European electricity grid and make Germany dependent on Russian gas. Across the border in the Czech Republic, Putin’s influence was also expanding, although in a different way. The play was not to destroy nuclear power generation, as in Germany, but to convert Czech nuclear generation to using Russian fuel.

The End of American Influence in Czech Nuclear Energy

In 2009 the Czech national utility decided to discard 6 years’ worth of Westinghouse fuel, and switch immediately to using Russian fuel. Miroslav Kalousek, as minister of finance from 2007 to 2013, was the senior official responsible for the national utility company. In 2012, Kalousek dealt another blow to Czech-American nuclear cooperation.

The Czech energy sector is neatly trapped.  They can choose between Russian nuclear technology and Russian gas, if Nord Stream II is completed.

The Czech government had decided to use American technology from Westinghouse to build additional nuclear capacities in Temelin, defying enormous pressure from the Russian atomic company Rosatom. Instead of signing the contract, however, Kalousek doomed the project by refusing Finance Ministry sponsorship of the investment. This raised doubts about the economic viability of the project. This is not to suggest that Kalousek was a witting or unwitting tool of Putin’s policy, but only a description of his decision and its effects.

The investment wasn’t completed. This failure to build new baseload capacity adversely affected Czech energy security. The fate of the world-renowned Czech nuclear industry and science was sealed, and crucial competencies in the sector were forever lost. To survive, remnants of industry were forced to become appendices of Rosatom’s supply chain. A crucial opportunity for Czech industry to enter the American nuclear industry chain was lost.

Solar Subsidies and Baseload Power

Following German footsteps, Czechia also rapidly increased renewable generation capacities through a “feed-in tariff” which guaranteed a rate for large-scale solar generation. This state subsidy caused solar generation to increase over 2,000-fold from 2007 to 2013. The Czech grid was not destabilized as much as Germany’s, but there were a multitude of corruption scandals associated with the new policy.

The irony of the Czech effort to “diversify” electricity generation by adding renewables is that they simultaneously decreased the diversity of their baseload power. Baseload power is electricity that is always there, always ready to respond to an increase in demand, rain or shine, wind or no wind. It comes from coal, nuclear, natural gas, and in some countries, hydroelectric or diesel generation.

The Czechs diminished their main source of baseload power, nuclear energy, when they refused to finance the new plants at Temelin. They killed the future of their independent technical knowledge and skilled workforce by allowing it to wither on the vine. By suppressing baseload generation diversity, the Putin-Schroeder Pact succeeded. Schroeder’s current status as chairman of Rosneft is a living testament of the Pact’s success.

The Czech energy sector now is neatly trapped. They can choose between Russian nuclear technology, if the Temelin project is resurrected and awarded to Rosatom; and Russian gas, if Nord Stream II is completed. Where will they turn for electricity, though, if they anger Mr. Putin?

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Bart Marcois

Bart Marcois (@bmarcois) was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the Bush administration. Additionally, Marcois served as a career foreign service officer with the State Department.

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