Czech government sacks nuclear plant envoy after criticism

PRAGUE, March 29 (Reuters) - The Czech government sacked its point man for the construction of a new nuclear power plant on Monday after he criticised the industry ministry for changing tack on a planned tender that critics saw as a way to keep Russia in the running.

The dismissal of long-time energy executive Jaroslav Mil is the latest in a series of conflicts over the plan to build the multibillion-dollar plant, focusing on whether Russia should be excluded from bidding for the project for national security reasons.

Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlicek said Mil had lacked a higher security clearance - which had not been seen as a problem before - and did not communicate well.

“In the past days, communication was not going well,” Havlicek told a news conference after a cabinet meeting where Mil was dismissed.

The NATO and EU member country’s security services and opposition parties have demanded that Russia and China be kept out to avoid the country’s exposure to potential geopolitical pressure. Havlicek called Russia a “key energy partner” on Monday.

While political parties agreed not to invite China, Russian participation has been backed by the state-controlled electricity producer CEZ, whose subsidiary is the plant’s investor, as well as by President Milos Zeman and the Communist party, which props up the minority cabinet by its votes in parliament.

The ministry said last week the government would delay opening the tender for the supplier until after an election due in October.

But in the meantime, potential bidders - South Korea’s KHNP, France’s EdF, Westinghouse of the United States and Russia’s Rosatom - would be given tender documentation and a security questionnaire in a pre-qualification round.

Critics saw this as back-door way to invite Russia in.

News website said Mil had sent the government’s Security Council a letter in which he criticised Havlicek’s decision saying it “would significantly damage the trustworthiness of the state’s proceedings declared until now”.

Mil did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)