Austrian Greens occupy People's Party headquarters as Temelin crisis deepens

Austrian environmental activists

The Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant is back in the news again - the dispute over Europe's newest atomic power station took a new twist on Monday, when Austrian environmental activists occupied the Vienna headquarters of Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's ruling People's Party. Mr Schuessel is coming under increased pressure to get tough with Prague over the plant - and some observers say the Temelin dispute could even force an early general election in Austria. Rob Cameron has more.

The headquarters of Chancellor Schuessel's People's Party were stormed by a group of around 25 Greenpeace and Global 2000 activists on Monday morning. The protestors are angry at what they say is Chancellor Schuessel's softening attitude to Temelin and the Czech Republic's negotiations with the European Union on nuclear energy. Among the protestors holed up in the building was Greenpeace's Franko Petri, and I spoke to him earlier by telephone.

"We are to remind the Austrian Conservative [People's] Party of a commitment which was made on the 5th of September 2000, that the energy chapter with the Czech Republic will not be closed until the security standards of the Temelin nuclear power plant are fulfilled."

The Czech Republic has completed talks on around two thirds of the chapters of EU legislation which it needs to adopt before joining the Union, and negotiators have now set their targets on one of the toughest: energy. A senior Czech official said on Monday that Prague wished to conclude energy talks by the end of December. He said the planned completion of bilateral negotiations with Austria over safety at Temelin - the so-called Melk process - would remove the last obstacle to closing the energy chapter.

But it's not quite as simple as that. The Melk process - a bilateral evaluation of the environmental and human risks of putting Temelin on-line - has received a lukewarm reception among the fiercely anti-nuclear Austrian public. Particularly controversial is Prague's refusal to include the option of actually shutting down the plant, which has suffered a series of embarrassing technical problems in its first year of existence.

Chancellor's Schuessel says he's trying to negotiate a diplomatic solution, but his junior coalition partners - the far-right Freedom Party - say that's not good enough. Either the Czechs contemplate shutting down Temelin altogether, or Austria uses its veto to block the energy chapter. And if the Austrian cabinet refuses to do that, says the Freedom Party, Schuessel's government will fall.

But Greenpeace spokesman Franko Petri was quick to emphasise that the environmental lobby opposes a veto on Temelin. He says a proper evaluation of safety remains the organisation's priority:

"A veto would not be effective, because it would make the pro-Temelin front in the Czech Republic stronger and it wouldn't make the Temelin nuclear power plant safer. A veto would not be effective."

The silence from Prague over the latest developments in Austria has been deafening. The occupation of Mr Schuessel's offices - and the splits appearing in his ruling coalition - have received scant coverage in the Czech media. Many Czechs are heartily sick of the Temelin dispute. Indeed with Austria literally surrounded by nuclear power plants - from Krsko in Slovenia to Cattenom in Switzerland - most of them just don't see what all the fuss is about.