Temelin controversy reaches climax

The Czech Republic's second nuclear power station at Temelin is now fully loaded with nuclear fuel and ready for ignition. Amidst heated debates about whether to hold a referendum on putting the plant in operation, the former Prime Minister and the current lower house speaker, Vaclav Klaus, has not hesitated to throw his weight in favour of nuclear energy and Temelin. Vladimir Tax has this report.

The Klaus government decided to complete Temelin in 1993, but many say the decision was based on misleading information. Temelin is now complete, and Mr Klaus visited it at the weekend. He was impressed by this hybrid of Soviet and Western technology, and described Temelin as a state-of-the-art, absolutely high-tech facility. He said he would be 100 percent against a referendum on putting the plant into operation because in his view, it was purely a technical question which the general public did not understand, and an issue which could be manipulated by various pressure groups. By this he meant nuclear-free Austria and environmental initiatives.

Mr Klaus gave a clear signal that he was unmoved by the 114,000 signatures under a petition calling for a referendum on Temelin, which was handed to parliament last week. This has come as no surprise, Mr Klaus never having been an advocate of direct democracy, to say nothing about his attitudes towards environmental protection. What is more surprising in this respect, is the Social Democrat government's reluctance to back the referednum, considering the minority ruling Social Democratic Party promised to hold a referendum on Temelin in their election manifesto.

Temelin obviously is not an easy case to decide as there are so many safety, economic, environmental and social aspects of differing importance - from the basic fact that Temelin is an experiment combining 1980s-style Soviet-designed reactors with modern Western control technology, to the surplus of electricity in both the Czech Republic and neighbouring countries, to the future or rather the fate of coal mining in North Bohemia and the thousands of jobs which are now in jeopardy.

Both the advocates and opponents of Temelin cite arguments from renowned experts and professionals. There are those who say that holding a referendum would have been reasonable back in 1993, before Temelin cost a 100 billion crowns. The point now, critics say, is that politicians should finally realize that they represent their voters and should respect their wishes and keep their own promises.