Temelin being loaded with nuclear fuel

The controversial nuclear power plant in southern Bohemia has hit the headlines once again. The process of preparing the plant for trial operation moved into higher gear on Wednesday , when the National Nuclear Safety Agency issued approval to load Temelin with nuclear fuel. Daniela Lazarova has the story.

Despite the fact that both Wednesday and Thursday were national holidays in this country, the fuel-loading operation began almost immediately. Greenpeace activists camping outside Temelin's gates in a last ditch effort to prevent the plant's launching were clearly taken aback, as indeed were two Czech Cabinet ministers. Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart and Foreign Minister Jan Kavan both raised eyebrows over the fact that, after lagging behind schedule for years, Temelin was suddenly being loaded a month ahead of schedule and moreover on a national holiday. CEZ, the power giant which built the plant, maintains that nothing unusual was happening. Its spokesman Milan Nebesar explains the situation:

"There was no rush to do this on our part. We had an agreement with the government that the loading had to be done by the end of August but it was understood that once we were ready we would load as soon as we received permission. It is true that we are now a few weeks ahead of schedule as there have been no last-minute hitches or problems, but it is certainly not at the expense of safety - and we have reports from numerous inspection teams to prove that."

Given the fact that this making up for lost time has been kept under wraps, environment activists are convinced that the change of plan is a tactic to forestall last-minute protests in this country and neighbouring Austria. Greenpeace supporters and members of Czech environment groups such as Rainbow and Children of the Earth are determined not to give in and will try to take the matter to court in an effort gain extra time and wider public support for a national referendum.

However, commentators are skeptical that anything can stop the plant's launching at this late stage. It has not escaped notice that the two ministers who expressed public disapproval were the very same ministers on whom Austria leveled pressure earlier this week. And there is no doubt that even if the Cabinet were persuaded to debate the matter yet again, its ultimate decision would swing in Temelin's favour.

There will be several months of trial operations and then, if all goes according to plan, the plant should go into commercial operation sometime in May of next year. At present CEZ is refusing to say who its future clients may be but it seems unperturbed by Austria's announcement that it would not buy energy from non-EU member states who produce nuclear power. We have reason to be optimistic regarding sales, the spokesman said. Part of the energy produced will be sold in this country, and the rest abroad.