(Adds opposition disagreement, CEZ, details)
PRAGUE, March 25 (Reuters) - The Czech Industry Ministry has decided to invite four bidders including Russia to pre-qualify for a tender to build a new nuclear power plant, but a final decision on who will be allowed to bid will be made after an October election, it said on Thursday.
The plan to build a new 1,200 megawatt (MW) unit at the Dukovany plant owned by state-controlled CEZ has been dogged by rifts over whether to allow Russia and China into the EU and NATO country’s costly and strategically sensitive project.
Security services and opposition parties, which have a chance of winning the election, have argued that it was not desirable that either of the two countries gain influence by leading the project worth at least 6 billion euros, plus inflation.
The government has agreed not to invite China but has wanted to keep in Russia’s Rosatom, seen as a strong contender with the backing of pro-Russian President Milos Zeman.
Other potential bidders are South Korea’s KHNP, France’s EdF and Westinghouse of the United States.
The pre-qualification round, set as a security assessment in which firms are to describe the structure of bids and address supply chain or cybersecurity issues, was unveiled on Thursday and had not been part of any official plans previously.
It keeps Russia in the process at least for now while not officially opening the tender.
Industry Minister Karel Havlicek said the assessments should finish in November, and a decision on which bidders take part would follow.
“The final decision will be up to the next government, which thanks to these steps will have maximum information,” he said.
CEZ said that the groups invited now would receive information allowing them to work on bids, and the tender could be opened in December.
The opposition rejected the decision as a way to bring Russia in through the back door, without approval of the full cabinet and a committee for the new nuclear power source which includes opposition representatives.
“(Havlicek) is bypassing the security interests of the Czech Republic. Security services have expressed themselves clearly toward aspects of Chinese and Russian solutions: negatively,” Chairman Ivan Bartos of the Pirate Party, which leads a coalition that led latest opinion polls, said on Twitter.
The plant is due to come online in 2036. The project is to be backed by state zero-interest loans, as well as state-guaranteed purchases of power at profit for CEZ. ($1 = 0.8483 euros) (Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Writing by Jan Lopatka Editing by Gareth Jones, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Alexandra Hudson)
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