Austrian measure could force Temelin lawsuit


The Austrian parliament has taken major step towards a confrontation with the Czech government over the controversial nuclear plant at Temelin. Yesterday Austria's legislature approved a strongly-worded motion demanding the Czechs prove that they have taken steps to make Temelin safer, or face a lawsuit.

If anybody was in doubt about how the Austrians really feel, this measure laid those doubts to rest. In a vote that was unanimous, the Viennese Parliament passed a motion that will force the government of Austria to bring a lawsuit against the Czech government if the Czechs don't immediately prove that upgrades to the plant's safety have been made.

Parliamentarian August Woeginger:

"It was a five-party motion, passed unanimously in the Austrian Parliament. Actually we're asking nothing more than what was decided in the 2001 Melk agreement - that deficiencies in the plant's security would be addressed. And if no resolution is forthcoming, we feel that we'll be forced to bring a suit based on international law."

The agreement signed in Melk bound the Czechs to upgrade Temelin, and in exchange the Austrians gave their support for Czech membership in the EU. Legal experts say the agreement isn't legally binding, and in itself could not form the basis for a lawsuit.

The Austrians' move has not been warmly received in the Czech Republic. President Vaclav Klaus called it scandalous and said he could not imagine the Czech parliament passing a similar measure.

Dana Drabova, President of the State Office for Nuclear Safety also gave her response:

"Prague has presented the Austrians with everything that was technically possible to present. So there really aren't any more steps that can be taken. As far as stepping up security and improving safety conditions and measures are concerned, that will be done automatically as long as the nuclear plant is in operation - not because some parliament passes a resolution but simply because it is a basic condition for the plant to function properly."

In November, Drabova's agency gave the plant an important kolaudace, or building approval, paving the way for the Austrian Parliament's move Thursday.

Temelin has been a sore point in Czech-Austrian relations since the plant began operating six years ago. The Austrians fret that the plant's Soviet design makes it more likely to experience a meltdown. The plant's operator, CEZ, has made many improvements using western technology, and says it is now safe.

It doesn't help CEZ's case, however, that the plant has suffered frequent shutdowns due to technical problems. All minor stuff, says CEZ. And right now, it looks like the Czech government is standing with them.