Temelin delayed, but Gregr unlikely to be out of job

Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr

Eighteen months ago the Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr made a public promise over the country's troubled Temelin nuclear power plant. Mr Gregr said he would offer his resignation if fuel wasn't being supplied to the second of Temelin's two reactors by the beginning of January 2002, and also promised to keep the cost of launching the plant within its final budget of just under 100 billion crowns. Well one of those promises at least appears to have been broken: fuel won't be supplied to the second reactor for a few weeks. But as Rob Cameron reports now, Mr Gregr is unlikely to find himself out of a job.

Prime Minister Milos Zeman told Czech Radio on Monday that he wouldn't accept Mr Gregr's resignation because the Trade and Industry Minister had the best track record in the cabinet. That's a claim few in the opposition would agree with, but Mr Zeman's loyalty to his 72-year-old colleague remains unshaken. Libor Roucek is the Czech cabinet spokesman:

"If you look at Mr Gregr's performance over the last three and a half years, everything works well at Temelin. The first block is running, they will get permission now to increase capacity to 100 percent. Yes, there is a slight delay of a few weeks with the second block, but it's nothing compared to the situation at Temelin before Mr Gregr came to office."

But what do you say to those critics who say what's the point in making a promise? Mr Gregr did promise if fuel wasn't being supplied to the second reactor by January that he would resign - what's the point in making that promise if everybody knows beforehand that his resignation will not be accepted?

"He made the promise a year and a half ago. It was not just about the second block but about both blocks. It was about time and it was about money. As far as the cost of Temelin is concerned, the cost is within the limit - that means 98.6 billion crowns. As far as time is concerned, yes it is true that there is a slight delay, and we're talking about a few weeks. But it wasn't in Mr Gregr's capacity to influence that delay. So there is no reason for the Prime Minister to accept Mr Gregr's resignation."

And that's a view shared by Vaclav Zak, editor-in-chief of the bi-monthly Listy. He says the reasons for the delays at Temelin were out of Mr Gregr's hands.

"I think that he is basically right, because the problem of Temelin is not a problem with Mr Gregr, it's a question of the quarrel between Austria and the Czech Republic. And because of that there was a postponement of some time. So I think that Mr Gregr is not directly responsible, and Mr Zeman is right when he says that he won't accept his resignation."

But of course Mr Gregr did promise eighteen months ago that he would resign if fuel wasn't being supplied to Temelin's second reactor by the beginning of January. He made that promise very public, very clear cut. Isn't the whole thing a bit of a farce, a bit of a political game?

"I would say it is a political game, but we shouldn't take it too earnestly. Temelin has been built for almost twenty years. No atomic power station in the world is built on time or built within the original budget. The situation at Temelin has dramatically improved, and targets that were postponed by years are now postponed by weeks. So I think really he promised to fulfil the terms but the flak is not so great that we should say it's something terrible."

Vaclav Zak, editor-in-chief of the bi-monthly Listy, ending that report by Rob Cameron.