Czech Energy Sector in 21st Century
A decisive part of the electrical grid of the Czech Republic, with more than a half share in electricity generation, still consists of coal production, while the Czech Republic shall have to stop burning coal in the generation of electricity. The Czech Republic is committed to the European Union’s goal to reduce CO2 emissions to an absolute minimum and coal-fired power plants must be reduced in the coming years.
The current installed capacity of lignite power plants in the Czech Republic is about 10,800 MWe (representing about 53%) and the assumption of its reduction (according to the State Energy Policy of the Czech Republic) is up to approximately 6,400 MWe (31.5%) by 2035 and up to approximately 2,600 MWe (12.7%) by 2040. The utilization of coal sources will therefore decrease very significantly and their share in the generation of power by 2040 is targeted at 11 to 21% in the State Energy Policy. However, gradual decommissioning of the existing units of the Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant can also be expected around 2040, which will represent a further reduction of the installed capacity in the Czech Republic by 2,040 MWe, i. a total deficit of up to 12,040 MWe. The declining energy sources in the Czech Republic are illustrated in the following figure provided by the Government Commissioner for Nuclear Energy comparing the state of electricity and heat production plants in 2020 to the state of electricity and heat production plants in 2045.
According to the existing assumptions, the installed capacity of coal-fired units owned by the CEZ Group will be additionally reduced from the current 6,200 MWe to approximately 700 Mwe by 2040. At the same time, European legislation and the Czech Coal Commission can further accelerate this shutdown of coal sources.
The State Energy Policy considers the potential for the availability of other sources of electricity and other energy policy instruments, i.e. the growing importance of renewable energy sources and increasing importance of energy savings. Renewable energy sources play and will continue to play an important role in the energy transformation. However, the Czech Republic has a naturally limited potential for the development and use of renewable energy sources, which is determined by natural conditions and environmental protection requirements.
At the same time, it is possible to assume an increase in the demand for the supply of electricity with the growing importance of electromobility and the consumption for customers.
For the above reasons, it is evident that nuclear energy will remain a key pillar of the Czech energy mix in the 21st century.
Every technology currently capable of transforming the energy of other forms into electrical (or thermal) energy has different properties and impacts on its near and distant surroundings.
Nuclear sources provide stable power, which is important for the management of the transmission system, and guarantee reliability of electricity supplies even when other sources cannot supply electricity. The installed capacity of nuclear power plants can safely, reliably and continuously cover not only energy-intensive industrial plants such as foundries, large factories, but also large cities and agglomerations.
The economy of operation of nuclear power plants is globally characterized by high input costs, but very low operating costs during operation. Input costs, operating costs, decommissioning costs, as well as 60-year planned design life and more are included in the LCOE (“Levelized Cost of Electricity”) economic evaluation. Nuclear power plants are globally, but especially in the Czech Republic, competitive with other sources. Thus, relatively cheap electricity can be provided for the end consumer under certain conditions. Therefore, nuclear energy has a significant positive effect on the economy of the whole state. This information has long been confirmed by the Community for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD NEA).
As a member of the European Union, the Czech Republic is committed to contributing to carbon neutrality by 2050, which was declared by the European Commission in 2019 as the main strategy for the development of environmental protection in the European Union, to reduce the consequences of climate changes. The construction of new nuclear sources in the Czech Republic is in line with the state plan on how to practically achieve these goals.
The operation of nuclear power plants results in emission of only a very limited amount of greenhouse gases (CO2 and methane) compared to the operations of other power plants. It is increasingly common in the world that carbon neutrality will not be possible without the extensive use of nuclear technologies in energy. It is foreseeable that during the expected 60 years of operation, the new nuclear units will prevent the discharge (considering the same power output) of:
- approximately 1 billion tons of CO2 compared to coal,
- approximately 500 milion tons of CO2 compared to a gas-fired power plant.
The World Nuclear Association reports the values of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emission for nuclear energy in the range of 2 - 130 t/GWh, while for studies carried out after 2000, the range will be reduced to 1.8 - 48 t/GWh. Compared to other sources, nuclear energy can be considered among the sources with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions:
- hydroelectric power plants 0.35 - 60 t/GWh,
- wind power plants 7.9 - 30 t/GWh,
- solar power plants 14 - 200 t/GWh,
- gas-fired power plants 290 to 930 t/GWh,
- coal-fired power plants 879 - 985 t/GWh,
- lignite power plants up to 1,700 t/GWh.
The role of nuclear power plants in the transformation to low-emission energy is addressed, for example, in the recent IAEA publication.
The issue of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel management in the Czech Republic is addressed as follows. Medium- and low-level radioactive waste, which is generated during the operation of nuclear power plants, is compressed and stored for several decades in the Radioactive Waste Repository in Dukovany, which is operated by the state, respective Radioactive Waste Repository Authority. However, spent nuclear fuel is considered as a raw material which, in view of its unused potential, can be put to further use. Therefore, it is currently stored in containers and the state plans the construction of a deep geological repository where spent nuclear fuel could be stored safely.
Nuclear energy is a modern technical field that brings great intellectual potential. The operation of nuclear power plants requires educated and well-trained personnel in all aspects, whose know-how is undoubtedly valuable and irreplaceable. It is an opportunity for graduates from technical universities and prospects for young scientists. As a field requiring general support from a number of related fields, nuclear power is a guarantee of the country’s economic development and increased competitiveness. The construction stimulates education, science and research, and creates new opportunities for maintaining and developing technical fields with high added value.
The construction itself will have positive economic consequences for Czech companies not only in the area of advanced modern technologies (expected orders worth tens of billions of Crowns). In particular for many medium and small regional companies from the whole of the Czech Republic, as well as for entrepreneurs and self-employed persons in the region, the construction of new sources represents a significant opportunity for taking-up and providing professions and services. For the current Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant, a study by experts from Charles University showed a positive socio-economic benefit of the operation for the broad region and its inhabitants (link).
Thanks to the modernization of the infrastructure in municipalities in the vicinity of the power plants and the expected development of housing and transport roads in the regions, the construction and subsequent operation will bring further employment and business opportunities also in services. The construction of new nuclear sources represents another potential source of financial assistance for the improvement of municipalities and support of cultural, social and sports activities, as well as support of education increasing education in the regions. All these activities will build on the existing support of the regions through existing power plants. The development of tourism (technical tourism) can also be expected. The Information Centres in Dukovany and Temelín are already popular tourist destinations (over 30,000 visits to each site each year).
The construction itself will bring jobs to thousands of people in the construction and four to six hundred skilled workers in the operation of one new unit.