Czechs Can Build Nuclear Unit Without Foreign Money, Babis Says

  • Prime minister candidate says CEZ is in ‘very good condition’
  • Building new reactor won’t damage CEZ’s value, Babis Says

Billionaire Andrej Babis, who is likely to become the next Czech prime minister, wants to expand the country’s nuclear energy capacity without the help of foreign investors.

Babis, the second richest Czech whose ANO party boasts a double-digit lead in polls before Oct. 20-21 elections, said state-controlled utility CEZ AS is able to finance the construction of at least one new unit at the Dukovany nuclear power station on its own. He dismissed concerns voiced by analysts covering CEZ that such a plan could damage the company’s value and anger its minority shareholders.

Andrej Babis on Sept. 26.

Photographer: Martin Divisek/Bloomberg

“They can easily finance it, easily,” Babis said in an interview in Prague on Tuesday. “CEZ is in a very good condition; it has the best balance sheet among energy companies in all of Europe.”

The government, which controls about 70 percent of the company, is discussing possible ways to finance new reactors with six potential investors, including Russia’s Rosatom Corp. that has already secured an agreement to build new reactors in Hungary. Forcing CEZ to shoulder the full cost of the project could deprive minority shareholders of dividend payments for many years to come. CEZ spokesman Ladislav Kriz declined to comment.

Utility Mired in Political Clash Sidelined as EU Peers Rally

The Prague-based power utility, which operates two Soviet-designed nuclear stations with the combined capacity of about 4,000 megawatts, had tried to add new reactors before. A previous tender for the $15 billion project was canceled in 2014 when a steep drop in power prices rendered it unprofitable and the government refused to provide potential investors with guarantees on the price of electricity generated by the new units.

Babis also expressed frustration over what he said was lack of state’s influence at the utility, and said he will try to bring the company under more direct government control if his party wins the election.

“This country never properly managed CEZ,” he said, criticizing some of the company’s past unsuccessful investments, particularly in the Balkans. “In normal business, you start building your business at home, and only then you try to enlarge it. They didn’t do their homework.”

— With assistance by Krystof Chamonikolas, Michael Winfrey, Paul Abelsky, and Radoslav Tomek

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