Small Pacific island challenges Czech plans to extend coal-burning power station

Prunéřov power plant, photo: CTK

Micronesia and the Czech Republic are twelve thousand kilometers apart but the small Pacific island is concerned that increased emissions from a coal-burning power station in western Bohemia will speed up global warming and increase the threat of Micronesia being swallowed up by the Pacific Ocean.

Prunéřov power plant,  photo: CTK
As the Copenhagen summit seeks to hammer out an agreement that would replace the Kyoto protocol in 2012, an island in the Pacific has made an appeal documenting the global character of the problem at hand. Micronesia has called on the Czech Republic to review the proposed extension of one of the country’s coal-burning power plants which now emits ten million tons of carbon dioxide a year – i.e. 40 times more than the overall annual emissions of Micronesia. The Micronesian authorities have asked the Czech Environment Ministry to be allowed to take part in a trans-boundary environmental impact assessment to determine how the increased emissions could affect the climate of the small Pacific island. Earlier today Radio Prague called Environment Ministry spokeswoman Petra Roubíčková to find out what chances Micronesia has of seeing its request granted.

“We will send a letter to Micronesia this week stating that it is unfortunately too late for a new trans-boundary environmental impact assessment because we are just about to close an environmental environment impact assessment study now, but if they will send us their comments by the time we have to close the procedure then we will take their concerns into consideration.”

“We have to close the process by mid-January so if they send us their comments by then we will include them in the assessment and settle their concerns.”

You say you have an environmental impact assessment study already –what is the outcome of that study?

“I can’t say. I really can’t tell you. When it is made public, then we will comment on it.”

Is it usual for foreign countries to ask to take part in assessments of this kind?

“It is quite common. In the past we have received many requests for trans-boundary environmental impact assessments from Germany, Poland or Austria for example, but it is rare to get a request from so distant a state as Micronesia.”

ČEZ, the power company that runs the coal-burning plant says it is convinced that the assessment study being conducted will go in its favour, since the planned modernization which is to accompany the extension will reduce the rate of CO2 emissions.

However the Czech branch of Greenpeace has expressed full support for Micronesia’s request. Jan Rovenský says the island’s request highlights a serious problem and is perfectly legitimate.

“I strongly believe that this request is fully justified. It is not only some vague concern that the Czech Republic’s biggest carbon dioxide polluter may contribute to rising sea levels – it is a scientific fact. Certainly the share of this particular plant is relatively small but we should look at the whole picture and take into consideration the cumulative effect. I think this is a good start and hope that Micronesia will continue with other plans and other countries and other small islands will follow.”

Why do you think Micronesia picked a coal-burning plant in the Czech Republic to highlight its plight?

“I think it was a window of opportunity. For one thing, the Czech environmental impact assessment law is quite flexible and allows other countries to have their say and influence the outcome. And another factor is that now is a good time for such a move in view of the Copenhagen conference.”

Do you yourself think that this particular plant is a big threat to the environment?

Prunéřov power plant,  photo: CTK
“Absolutely. This particular plant emits 10 million tons of carbon dioxide a year which is more than all the cars in the Czech Republic emit in the same period and even more than the well-known Kingston power plant in Great Britain. So that is one point – the second point is that the power utility ČEZ wants to operate this plant for another 25 years, meaning the emissions would continue for another quarter of a century. That is absolutely unacceptable.”