Animosities flare up anew between Czech Republic and Austria over Temelin nuclear power plant

Temelin nuclear power plant

The Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia has for years been the only problematic issue between the Czech Republic and nuclear-free Austria. In the year 2000 the two countries signed a bilateral agreement relating to safety norms at the plant and an above-standard exchange of information. Now the Czech Republic wants to end its validity - but Austria is fighting the decision every step of the way.

The so-called Melk agreement - named after the Austrian town where it was signed - has kept controversies between the two countries over nuclear safety more or less in check. It set the framework for regular meetings between Czech and Austrian nuclear safety experts and established a special commission which monitored the impact of Temelin on the environment. Now the Czech government is arguing that since the conditions of the deal have been met and the Czech Republic fully adheres to international nuclear safety norms, it is time to end the validity of the Melk agreement and replace it with a standard information-exchange treaty.

At its session on Wednesday the Cabinet intended to officially announce the Melk agreement "closed" but protests from neighboring Austria - both from politicians and anti-nuclear activists- made it take a more restrained approach. Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra said Prague was not going to ignore Vienna's concerns:

"We believe it is time to move onto a standard information exchange treaty. But we are aware that Austria is not yet prepared to take this step with us, so we have agreed that the two countries' environment ministers will continue to fulfill the Melk commitments for the time being. However the special commission which monitored the impact of Temelin on the environment will be disbanded because it is simply no longer needed."

The Czech government maintains that Temelin is as safe as any other nuclear plant in Western Europe, anti-nuclear opponents beg to differ citing the 166 technical and man-made failures at the plant since it was made operational in the year 2000. The State Agency for Nuclear Safety says that they were all on the bottom end of the scale in terms of gravity and none of them endangered people or the environment in any way, but opponents say the frequency with which accidents occur at Temelin is in itself cause for concern.

Angry with their own government for not having sued the Czech Republic at a European court over Temelin, Austrian anti-nuclear activists have announced their intention to block 10 of the countries' 16 border check-points on Friday, April 27. The chairman of the Czech Senate Premysl Sobotka denounced the continuing border blockades saying they violated the right of citizens to free movement within the EU and accused Upper Austrian politicians of "looking on this violation with quiet approval". Animosities between the two states over Temelin have flared up anew and nothing could have shown more clearly that Austria is not prepared to relinquish the only safety-check it has over a nuclear power plant located just 60 km from its border.