Controversy over Austrian disaster film simulating Czech nuclear accident

'The First Day', photo:

A recent Austrian TV production depicting the aftermath of a fictional accident at a Czech nuclear power plant has touched a raw nerve in relations between the two countries, strained over the Czech use of nuclear energy. This time, the fictional movie even made Czech President Václav Klaus pick up the phone to complain to his Austrian counterpart.

The disaster film “The First Day” was aired by Austria’s public broadcaster ORF on Thursday as part of a thematic night dedicated to the thirtieth anniversary of a referendum in which Austrians decided to abandon all nuclear related projects in the country. The movie’s producer Andreas Kamm, of the Vienna-based MR Film Gruppe, explains what the movie is about.

“Basically, it’s a fiction about what happens within the first day after a major accident at a nuclear power plant close to the Austrian border; what happens in the region and what happens in Austria during those first 24 hours.”

But unlike Austria, literally all of its neighbours have since embraced nuclear power. The Czech Republic currently operates two nuclear power plants – Temelín, in southern Bohemia, and Dukovany in southern Moravia, and both of them happen to located near the border with the country’s nuclear-free southern neighbour. The choice of Dukovany, some 40 km away from Austria, as the site of the fictional nuclear catastrophe, evoked outrage in Prague. Czech President Václav Klaus called his Austrian colleague, the Bundespräsident Heinz Fischer, on Friday to say that the airing of the catastrophic fictional film was “unfortunate” while the head of the Czech State Office for Nuclear Safety Dana Drábová said Dukovany ranked among the world’s ten safest nuclear power plants. But the producer of the film Andreas Kamm says there were no political reasons behind their choice of setting.

“The reason is basically what we were told by the experts that this was the nearest nuclear plant to the border – it’s for example closer than Temelín or [Slovakia’s] Bohunice. It’s also built in a way that it has no containment zone, which would make such an accident possible. It’s just a fiction, but this would make it possible. It’s also an older plant which was planned I believe by the end of the 1970s.”

The Czech Ambassador to Vienna Jan Koukal, for his part, didn’t like how the film depicted the initial chaos and the failure of the Czech authorities to provide Austria with vital information in the wake of the accident. In reality, he says, Czech-Austrian cooperation in nuclear-related issues is much smoother.

“It definitely is much better because we have now two agreements between the Czech Republic and Austria. There are various, very secure means of exchanging information on a daily basis, there is now a steady information flow. I get part of that in my computer, because I need to be also very well informed, so I know that both countries are cooperating much better than as it was presented in the television programme.”

The producer of the TV film “Der Erste Tag” Andreas Kamm says this film was only a fiction, and that the strong reactions from Prague surprised him.

“I didn’t expect that. I mean, it’s a fictional programme, and I don’t understand why there is such nervousness among the politicians about a film which just shows a fiction about what might possibly happen and which clearly states it is a fiction.”