Czech-German deadlock continues over safety at Temelin


The Czech government announced on Wednesday that it had no doubts about the safety of the Temelin nuclear power station, and would not react to a German call to close the Soviet-designed plant. Prague said it had absolute confidence in its nuclear experts, and said that Temelin - which has suffered from serious problems in its first year of trial operation - would go ahead as planned. But the Czech government's firm stand on the issue is angering environmental groups, who say the plant is unsafe. Rob Cameron has more.

There's been much confusion in the past seven days, as diplomats, politicians and journalists argued over the letter from Germany and its contents. Reports in the media claimed the letter was from the German government. Not so says the Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman: it was drawn up and sent, without Berlin's approval, by one man: Germany's fervently anti-nuclear Environment Minister, Jurgen Trittin. Libor Roucek is the Czech government's spokesman, and earlier today I asked him to clarify the matter.

Libor Roucek: The letter is on the letterhead of the German ministry for the environment, and from all the information we got from Germany this letter wasn't discussed within the German cabinet, and it wasn't voted on. So we understand that it's the viewpoint of the German ministry of environment.

Radio Prague: Does that lessen its importance for you, that it hasn't been approved by the [German] cabinet?

LR: Mr Trittin, the German Environment Minister, is against nuclear power, and he's against Temelin.

RP: Right, so nothing new there.

LR: No, nothing new there.

RP: But does Germany as a neighbour have the right do you think to have a say in an issue that does affect it, after all there are millions of people living nearby.

LR: In Europe and in the world, the energy policy is a matter for each country. So each country has the right to determine the energy policy the country wants for the future, whether it's nuclear, or water-powered plants, coal, gas whatever. That's the basic rule, that's the basic principle within the EU. Of course we understand that in Europe, which is densely populated, there is a need to talk to neighbours, discuss issues with neighbours, and that of course includes issues of nuclear energy, of nuclear safety at power plants, and so on... Nobody can say that we don't talk to our neighbours, that we don't discuss issues with our neighbours. On the contrary. The Czech Republic has done more as far as discussion and contact with neighbours is concerned than any other country in Europe.

Well that's certainly not a view shared by the environmental lobby. Jan Haverkamp is a spokesman for Greenpeace.

Jan Haverkamp: I think that it's very important that the Czech government takes this appeal seriously, that it starts listening to arguments.

Radio Prague: Let's say it takes those concerns seriously and then it says, 'Right, we've registered your concerns, but we trust our technicians, we trust our nuclear experts, and we're going ahead and that's that', surely then, Germany has no right really to say anything further.

JH: It will then very much depend on what the discussion will be in the coming months, on two levels. The first level is the level of the European Union. As you probably will have noticed, the European Parliament's exterior commission passed several changes in the negotiation texts for the Czech Republic, which expressed their deep concern about the Temelin nuclear power plant, and I suppose Germany will also support that position in the Parliament. And then we come to the second level of negotiations, which is the privatisation of CEZ [the state-owned energy utility which owns and operates Temelin]. And it will not go unnoticed to possible investors in CEZ that Temelin is a risk.

RP: That's an economic issue, let's stick with the safety issue. Why do you think the Czech Republic's neighbours such as Germany and Austria are so concerned about one very new nuclear power station and not the dozens of much, much older and therefore presumably more dangerous stations in, say, France?

JH: They're not only concerned about the Czech ones. First of all, they're turning off their own ones, which are, if I look at all the studies, safer than Temelin. They also express their concerns about French nuclear power stations but that happens within the EU, but the Czech media don't pick that up because it's not concerned with the Czech Republic. I think it shows a little bit that this government is looking too much inside the Czech Republic. It's got problems seeing the world outside of the Czech Republic. And it has problems noticing that nuclear power has been in discussion for 20-25 years, and that no new nuclear reaction has been ordered in Europe and the United States since 1976. It doesn't see that, and it's then easy to say - you're only talking about Temelin, you're not talking about the French or the British reactors, or whatever. There is talk about those reactors, but the Czech government fails to see it.