UPDATE 1-CEZ wants wide agreement on nuclear plant as rows over Russia hold up tender

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PRAGUE, March 16 (Reuters) - CEZ would prefer to have a political agreement on launching a tender to build a new unit at the Dukovany nuclear plant, Chief Executive Daniel Benes said on Tuesday as tensions were rising over whether to invite Russia into the process.

The 70% state-owned electricity producer aims to launch the tender, estimated to be worth at least 6 billion euros ($7.17 billion) in current prices, as soon as possible.

The EU and NATO country’s security services have advised not to invite China and Russia into the tender, going against pro-Russian President Milos Zeman as well as Benes who have spoken in favour of keeping in Russia, seen as a strong contender.

Most opposition parties, which stand a chance to take power in an election planned for October, have pressed not to invite the two countries into the process.

“We would rather for it to have a wider consensus,” Benes said at a press conference on CEZ’s 2020 results.

“It would provide greater stability in view of an election coming every four years, when the political representation is changing, but it is not a necessary condition,” Benes said.

In January, political parties agreed Chinese companies should not take part but disagreed on Russia.

Besides China’s CGNP and Russia’s Rosatom, France’s EdF , Korea’s KHNP and U.S. Westinghouse expressed their interest in building the around 1,200 megawatt plant.

Benes said consensus was not contractually necessary and stopped short of saying whether the tender -- which would take about 18 months, into the next election period -- would be launched amid political rows.

CEZ needs an official instruction from the Industry Ministry before it can go ahead. The ministry has been in favour of keeping the tender open to Russia, but the cabinet has not taken a final stance.

The government’s envoy for nuclear energy, Jaroslav Mil, told Hospodarske Noviny newspaper on Tuesday that the tender should not be launched without consensus.

A meeting of a nuclear energy committee of government and opposition representatives was planned for late March or early April.

CEZ has already once cancelled a tender to build a new nuclear power plant, in 2014, over a lack of government aid, and has been keen to avoid a second failure.

The opposition has also been filibustering a bill in parliament allowing state loans and power purchases from the plant by the state on profitable terms for CEZ. ($1 = 0.8374 euros) (Reporting by Jason Hovet and Robert Muller Editing by Jan Lopatka and David Evans)