EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

Climate change is one of the most serious issues affecting the world today. Extreme weather conditions, such as drought, heat waves, flood and heavy rain are becoming more frequent not only on the other side of the world, but also in Europe. The planet is suffering from other consequences, like rising sea levels and loss of biodiversity. These are only some issues; the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

The EU came up with a rather ambitious plan to help slow down climate change. Its target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 % by 2030. The long-term goal is to achieve a climate neutrality by 2050. This issue is one of the key tasks for the new commission and for Ursula von der Leyen herself.

On December 12, the EU Member States reached an agreement on climate neutrality by 2050, albeit without Poland. In the past, the Czech Republic has been reluctant to commit to climate neutrality by 2050, because nuclear energy was not considered a green source of energy. However, in the conclusion of the final agreement, it states that “some Member States have indicated that they use nuclear energy as part of their national energy mix.” Thus, the Czech Republic received the necessary guarantees to support the climate neutrality goal, although it will still be necessary for the Czech Republic to invest more into renewables as nuclear power will not be able to compensate for a coal phase out swiftly enough. Even though the percentage of coal is decreasing every year, the Czech Republic is substituting it with nuclear power rather than with renewable sources such as solar and wind power. Nuclear power is strongly supported both among experts, politicians and the general public, however, it comes with a lot of issues.

Firstly, the construction of a new nuclear power plant is both extremely expensive and takes too long vis-à-vis the monumental task ahead of humanity. For example, the Areva EPR in Flamanville, France, was originally supposed to take 5 and a half years[1] to build with a budget of 3.3 billion euro. In June 2019, the company announced that there were ‘some issues’ with the reactor and that most likely it will not be finished by the end of 2022 bringing the total cost to 12.4 billion euros. This is just one example, there are many more unfinished or even cancelled constructions of reactors or NPP – for example the one in Crimea or in Alabama, US.

There are two main problems with nuclear power in the Czech Republic. As stated above, building new reactors is very expensive. At the same time, the existing Czech nuclear reactors are quite old. Typically, a reactor gets shut down after 30 years as it is too old to function properly. Currently, most of Czech reactors are in operation for over 50 years. They have been repaired many times, but the Czech Republic is in a desperate need of either building a new reactor or finding another solution. With that comes another issue – currently, there is an ongoing tender on who will win the contract. Companies from France, the US, South Korea, but also Russia and China are competing, which creates a rather tense situation in international relations.[2]

The Czech position on energy is rather unique. If we were to compare the Czech Republic and its neighbouring states, we would find out that it’s practically impossible. For example, Slovakia takes most of its energy from nuclear power plants, while hydro power plants come second, build on three major rivers – Váh, Danube and Hron.[3] In 2015, Germany launched its Energiewende, stating that by 2050, Germany will get its energy mainly from renewable sources such as wind, water and solar. The Czech Republic could use, to a certain extent, Austria as an example. Austria claims that by 2025, it will no longer generate energy from coal, has no NPP and tries to use up energy from renewably sources, mainly wind turbines. However, Austria is dependent on energy import as it is unable to meet demand from its own sources. Compared to that, the Czech Republic is one of the three most energy-independent states in the EU with the UK and Denmark.[4]

The main problem that the Czech Republic would face is the fact that by switching completely from NPP to renewable sources, it would have to give up on its status of the most energy independent state because it would not be able to cover both the domestic demand and keep exporting one third of its electricity, as it does nowadays. If the Czech Republic stopped exporting its energy to other states, mainly Austria and Slovakia[5], it would still keep its status of the most energy independent state and would be able to cover the domestic demand. By this step, The Czech Republic could invest more into the research and development of new renewable energy technologies, gradually abandon coal and try to find a balance between NPP and renewable energy sources.

In conclusion, the Czech Republic has to become more dynamic in the energy sector and with its energy policies and should support renewable sources, especially by building new efficient solar and wind power plants, but also stay open to new alternative sources of energy. Currently, it is impossible to completely abandon nuclear power, but for the future developments, it makes more sense to focus on renewable energy due to its lower costs and shorter timeframes.

Eleni Vlachopulosová

 

[1] The construction began in 2007.

[2] The Czech Republic doesn’t want to choose between West and East to disrupt the relations between them and any of the countries. The PM is currently in talks with the company from South Korea as it seems as the most efficient and safe choice.

[3] TZB-info, „Slovensko – energetický trh našich sousedů“, 2016, https://www.tzb-info.cz/ceny-paliv-a-energii/14375-slovensko-energeticky-trh-nasich-sousedu.

[4] Czech statistical office/ČSÚ – Energetika očima statistiky.

[5] Data from ERÚ

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