November 11, 2013 / 2:40 PM / 6 years ago

European Commission probes CEZ's Temelin nuclear tender

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission has begun a preliminary investigation into Czech utility CEZ’s (CEZP.PR) decision to exclude France’s Areva from a multi-billion dollar nuclear power plant tender, a commission spokeswoman said on Monday.

Areva AREVA.PA has challenged the majority state-owned utility’s decision last year to exclude the company for failing to meet what CEZ called “crucial requirements” in the bid to enlarge the Temelin nuclear power plant.

Westinghouse, a unit of Japan’s Toshiba Corp (6502.T), and Russia’s Atomstroyexport are the remaining bidders for the project that analysts have estimated will cost at least $10 billion (6.3 billion pounds).

“No infringement procedure has been launched,” Chantal Hughes, a Commission spokeswoman, told reporters after a question concerning the tender and Areva. “It is still very much at the stage of preliminary investigation.”

She added Brussels has asked Czech authorities for more information on state-controlled CEZ’s tender for the project that represents the Czech Republic’s biggest-ever public tender.

CEZ spokeswoman Barbora Pulpanova declined to make a specific comment, saying the issue was between the Czech government and Brussels.

“We don’t see it as something dramatic,” she said. “We have given all the necessary documents to the relevant Czech authorities.”

The Czech Finance Ministry said talks with the Commission were confidential.

“There are confidential talks with the Commission within the EU pilot framework, whose content cannot be published. The Finance Ministry is informed about the case from its capacity as the biggest shareholder representative, but it is not interfering,” said Ondrej Sramek, the ministry’s spokesman.

Acting on a complaint from Areva, a Czech regional court issued an injunction in October preventing CEZ from signing a contract with a winner of the tender.

CEZ, central Europe’s biggest utility, is expected to pick a winner either in 2014 or 2015, which means the injunction is not currently delaying the tender.

The project would double the size of the 2,000 megawatt Temelin plant with two new units. CEZ has already put off picking a tender winner this year and is waiting for the government to agree on a new state energy strategy.

Reporting by Michael Kahn and Robert Mueller in Prague and Barbara Lewis in Brussels; editing by Keiron Henderson

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