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Czech Republic: Life's Easier With A Western Partner

By Jiri Kominek

Prague, 17 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Czech machinery manufacturing company ZDAS is a good example of a medium-size privatised company in the east which has made an advantageous alliance with a western partner.

ZDAS, based in the sleepy Moravian countryside at Zdar Nad Zazavou, was founded in 1952, in the early years of the communist era. Its main manufacturing item has always been large-scale industrial presses, for instance as used in compressing scrap metal.

In the new era, ZDAS realised the value of links with western businesses, with their marketing expertise and high-tech perspective. Pavel Kliment, the forming machines manager of ZDAS, told an RFE/RL correspondent that ZDAS found its ideal business partner during a visit to the Hannover trade fair in Germany two and a half years ago.

It was the leading German design company Nukem, which specialises in toxic waste disposal of all types, including nuclear waste. Both ZDAS and Nukem agree that it was a case of instant recognition that a partnership was right. Nukem's technical procurement director Stefan Perl told our correspondent that he considers ZDAS to be an excellent company with business experience both in east and west, and offering very competitive prices.

As a result of the cooperation, ZDAS has now entered the new field of manufacturing specialised presses to help dispose of low-radioactivity nuclear waste. It has taken a design from the German company's drawing boards, and incorporated some technical improvements to the design from its own practical experience. The presses are able to safely condense drums containing low-level radioactive waste, and thus save crucial space at nuclear disposal sites.

Kliment says ZDAS's role is to make the presses, it is not involved in the actual marketing of the equipment. Nukem signs all the deals with clients, then passes on the orders to the Czech company, which produces whatever is required. He adds that ZDAS has a say in solving technical issues involving adapting the equipment to the clients' needs.

The company�s first such press is currently entering service at the nuclear power station at Jaslovske Bohunice in Slovakia. The second press is already being built for a power plant at Balakovo in Russia, and is due to be installed by the end of the year. Ukraine has also displayed an interest.

Kliment says that although it takes nine months to build a single press, the capacity at ZDAS is large enough to handle any forseeable influx of orders.

The reason that it takes so long to construct the presses, is because each one is tailor-designed to meet the requirements of the individul client, he says. An average press can process 2,000 tons of low-radioactive nuclear waste per hour.

Kliment is careful to point out that ZDAS is not making equipment that disposes of high-level radioactive objects like spent nuclear fuel. He says, low radioactivity waste means drums containing such items as workers' overalls and other articles that have become contaminated during the normal operations of a nuclear power plant.

The paradox is that while the ZDAS-Nukem partnership has been able to break into the big post-communist market in the east, it has not received any orders yet from home territory, the Czech Republic. At EDU Dukovany, the only operational nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic, there doesn't seem to be much interest in the new press. According to company management at Dukovany, the plant currently uses press equipment that was manufactured some time ago by a Cheb-based firm that has since gone out of business.

Dukovany officials maintain that as long as they have no problems obtaining spare parts for their equipment, there is no need to look elsewhere.