Czechs and Slovaks sign nuclear deal

With memories of this winter's gas price row between Russia and Ukraine still fresh, the Czech and Slovak governments are taking another look at the promise of nuclear power. When Slovakia joined the European Union five years ago, one of the terms of accession was that it shut down a Soviet-era nuclear plant by 2008.

But recent spats between gas supplier Russia and transit country Ukraine have left some European countries in the cold. Some nations, including Slovakia and its neighbor the Czech Republic, now think nuclear power may free them from their dependence on Russian natural gas.

State-run companies from the Czech Republic and Slovakia announced plans on Friday to build a new nuclear reactor in Jaslovske Bohunice on the site of the old Soviet power generator that was shut down last December.

The deal that was signed between Czech energy company CEZ AS and Slovak state energy firm JAVYS AS will set up a joint-stock company to construct a new 100 billion koruny ($5.2 billion) reactor. JAVYS AS will have a 51 percent stake while CEZ will control 49 percent.

No further details were provided, but a feasibility study, due to be completed by 2010, will provide a timetable for the project.

As recently as this January, Slovak officials threatened to re-start the old Soviet reactor when gas supplies to several European Union countries were halted because of a price dispute between Russia and the Ukraine.
No guarantees

And Slovakia still won't guarantee not to start the old reactor up again.

"I cannot rule it out," said Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico after the European Nuclear Energy Forum in Prague. "If there was such a threat in Slovakia, it is more important to have light and warmth than dark and cold."

Both the Czech and Slovak republics are among the biggest proponents of nuclear power.

According to the World Nuclear Association, Slovakia currently has five nuclear generators, which provide half of the country's electricity, with two more under construction. The Czech Republic has six nuclear plants which supply one third of its electricity.