Nuclear safety office rules out serious accident at Temelin

The head of the Czech Republic's nuclear safety agency says it would be "physically impossible" for a Chernobyl-type accident to occur at the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant near the Czech-Austrian border.

In an interview in Wednesday's Hospodarske noviny newspaper, Office of Nuclear Safety Director Dana Drabova said she couldn't rule out risks at Temelin, a twin-reactor facility that government leaders in Austria and the German state of Bavaria want the Czechs to shut down.

"I can't say that Temelin is absolutely safe," Drabova said. "But I can say that it is as safe as possible... and certainly what happened at Chernobyl cannot occur there. It is physically impossible."

Drabova said the plant, Europe's newest nuclear plant since its first reactor was launched in October 2000, continues to receive close supervision from international experts, including German and Austrian scientists. The International Atomic Energy Agency has given its approval. The second reactor is expected to be launched in a few months.

Although Temelin was built with a Soviet design, since it was started in the early 1980s when Czechoslovakia was a Soviet satellite, the plant was retrofitted in the 1990s with American safety systems. This combination is cited as a danger by plant opponents and a safety advantage by supporters.

Much of the plant's opposition is based on "emotions", Drabova said.

Drabova pledged to be open with the public about Temelin and, apparently to underscore her point during the interview, revealed information about a never-reported, Chernobyl-related incident she gleaned from confidential government files.

The incident occurred in a Prague government office eight days after the April 26, 1986, release of radioactivity from the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine.

Drabova said Czechoslovakia's then-minister of health was about to go on television to warn the nation about the dangers of radioactive fallout. But the speech was never delivered because the prime minister, Lubomir Strougal, took the printed speech and tore it up because the government wanted to hide Chernobyl facts from the public.