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UPDATE 1-Czech nuclear plant tender hits hurdle over China, Russia participation

(Adds quote, opposition, CEZ, background)

PRAGUE, Dec 9 (Reuters) - A Czech tender to build a new nuclear power plant worth at least $7.2 billion at current prices will be delayed as politicians discuss whether to allow Chinese and Russian bidders to take part due to security concerns, officials said on Wednesday.

The plan for majority state-owned utility CEZ to build a 1,200 MW unit at the Dukovany power plant has run into demands from security services and five opposition parties to exclude Russia’s Rosatom and China General Nuclear Power due to perceived security risks to the NATO and EU member country.

Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlicek said after a meeting of a state commission on nuclear power expansion that the tender would not be opened by the end of the year as planned and further discussions would take place in January, CTK news agency reported.

He said four options were being discussed: allowing Chinese and Russian bidders to take part; allowing them in only as junior members of wider consortia; not allowing them in; or delaying the process until after an election due in October 2021.

Havlicek said he preferred an option where Russian and Chinese firms could join forces with the other three potential bidders - South Korea’s KHNP, France’s EdF and Westinghouse of the United States.

“This is an option where we...would secure a competitive tender, achieve a lower price and at the same time protect the state’s security interests,” Havlicek said.

Representatives of two opposition parties confirmed to Reuters the options on the table, but said they preferred to exclude Russian and Chinese firms.

Nuclear power is a part of the country’s plan to secure its energy needs as it phases out coal, although it is preparing to retire several older reactors.

CEZ has argued for the widest-possible field of bidders to push the price down. It said on Wednesday it was waiting for instruction on whom to invite to the tender.

The tender had been expected to open this month until Prime Minister Andrej Babis said in November that he wanted a cross-party agreement.

The project includes price guarantees for power prices for CEZ and requires European Commission clearance for state aid. (Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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