News of Radio Prague

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Temelin re-started

Operators at the Temelin nuclear power plant re-started the first of Temelin' s two reactors for another phase of trial operation early on Wednesday. Following a three-week pause for repair work the reactor being tested at 75 % of its operation capacity . The plant's second reactor is scheduled for start up in the spring. The Temelin power plant has been plagued by a number of technical problems, the latest of which was a malfunctioning pump. However its operator, the power utility CEZ, claims that the problems are a normal part of trial operation.

IAEA says Temelin is safe

Meanwhile, a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded that nothing now stands in the way of putting the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant into full operation. A spokesman for the agency said at the end of a week-long inspection of the plant that "all safety related issues had been addressed and resolved" and that Temelin now fulfills the agency's strict nuclear safety norms. The Agency is to publish an official report on Temelin before the end of this year. The statement comes as Czech and Austrian officials prepare for a final round of talks aimed at quelling more than a year of strained diplomatic relations and anti-nuclear protests over the Temelin power plant. The Austrian and Czech heads of government Wolfgang Schuessel and Milos Zeman are expected to discuss the matter in Brussels on Thursday in the presence of EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen.

Parliament approves controversial law on churches

The Lower House of Parliament has approved a controversial new law on churches, overriding a veto from the Senate. The law which was approved by 119 votes out of 198, met with opposition from the Christian Democrats and has been sharply criticized by Church dignitaries for allegedly "curtailing religious freedoms" and giving established churches greater rights than newly registered institutions. The law still has to be signed by the President.

Tighter asylum law

At its session on Tuesday the Lower House also approved a tighter new asylum law. The legislation, which received a priority hearing, is aimed at speeding up the process of granting asylum to political refugees and people fleeing from a war zone and reducing the number of economic refugees allowed to enter the country. There has been a sharp increase in the number of foreigners seeking asylum in the Czech Republic in recent months. While just a year ago it was an average 500 people a month, this year the number has quadrupled.

Czech leaders at odds over Russia's security role in Europe

A public hearing of the Senate on foreign policy matters has revealed that leading Czech politicians are at odds over whether Russia should ever be invited to join NATO. Addressing the hearing, President Vaclav Havel expressed the opinion that in spite of common security interests, Russia should never be invited to join the western security alliance. He expressed the view that it would hurt NATO's identity and turn it into a new "boundless" institution such as the United Nations . The Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, however, has said the possibility of Russian membership in NATO should not be ruled out in view of the changing international situation and "common security interests". The ensuing debate in the Senate revealed that the majority of Czech politicians agree with the President's view and some even believe that NATO would disintegrate should Russia join the alliance.

EU candidates to benefit from meeting environmental norms

At EU headquarters in Brussels officials have outlined to candidate states the benefits of meeting the block's strict environmental protection norms. According to a study presented at a meeting of environment ministers of 13 applicant states those countries could save at least 130 billion euro in the period up to 2020 by upgrading their laws to EU standards. The study carried out by the European Commission said the candidates would need to invest approximately 120 billion euro to meet EU pollution standards but would gain much more in terms of lower spending on health care and increased agricultural production thanks to cleaner water and air. The Czech Republic and Poland are expected to be among the chief beneficiaries.

Weather

Wednesday should be partly cloudy to overcast with drizzle, sleet or snow showers in the higher altitudes. Day temps between 0 and 5 degs C. No significant change is expected until the end of the week.