Czech-Austrian relations once again under strain over Temelin

Photo: CTK

The dispute surrounding the Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia is very much back on the agenda. Last week Austrian anti-nuclear demonstrators blockaded a number of border crossings, the latest in a series of protests. They say they will close down the entire border if the Austrian government fails to file an international lawsuit against the Czech Republic over Temelin. This week Vienna sent a diplomatic note to Prague, protesting at what Austria claims is the Czechs' failure to comply with the 2000 Melk Agreement on safety at Temelin. So why is Austria still so bothered by the plant? A question we put to Radko Pavlovec, Upper Austria's Commissioner for Nuclear Issues.

"It's not a very good feeling because there are a lot of very serious safety problems that still have not been solved. A great part of them are contained in this Melk Agreement, but there are also very serious new problems like the deformations of nuclear fuel."

The Melk Agreement was designed to put an end to the protests from Austria and resolve the differences of opinion over Temelin, and now we see once again these blockades on the border. Does that suggest perhaps that the Melk Agreement has failed?

"The problem is that the agreement has not been fulfilled by the Czech side. There was a clear term that all safety problems are to be solved before the beginning of Temelin's commercial operation. Permission [for commercial operation] was granted in November 2006, and it's clear that these problems were not solved. There is a detailed [assessment] by an international team of experts for the Austrian government from October 2005 that stated that all the main problems were not solved."

Photo: CTK
But Temelin's spokesman - Vaclav Brom - says that the plant's operator, CEZ, is fulfilling all the commitments from the Melk Agreement.

"The main problem is in the understanding of this agreement. I said already - there is a detailed assessment by this international expert team on the Austrian government side but there is not one paper from the Czech side. No expert assessment and also no comment on this [Austrian] report, and therefore it is not clear to me how CEZ can say they are fulfilling this agreement."

What about these blockades by Austrian anti-nuclear activists? Do you support them?

"I respect them. It's clear to me that there are many people in the region who are very afraid of this power plant. They hoped the Melk Agreement would bring a better situation. They waited five years. So in November 2006, when they saw there was obviously no will on the part of the Czech government to fulfil the agreement, it was the starting point for these actions. I understand on the other hand that it's a great problem for the people in the Czech Republic who are travelling across the border and who have no connection to this problem. I can understand both sides."

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg with his Austrian counterpart Ursula Plassnik, photo: CTK
The Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has warned that the Czech Republic will take this issue to Brussels if the Austrian government fails to prevent Austrian activists from blocking the border and blocking trade. He's right isn't he - it's not very neighbourly of Austria to allow this to happen.

"Yes but the primary problem is that the Czech side will not fulfil the Melk Agreement. It's the key point in this. Blockades are a secondary problem. And I would be very glad if this matter is discussed at a European level because the European Commission was involved in the construction of the Melk Agreement."