"Temelin expansion" claims cause shock, anger in non-nuclear Austria

AKW Temelin

A minor diplomatic storm appears to be brewing between Prague and Vienna, after reports emerged in the Czech media that the Czech Republic was planning to expand the Temelin nuclear power plant, which opened in October 2000. Austria's ambassador to Prague has spoken of his country's grave concern at the prospect of more reactors being built at Temelin. The Czech government, meanwhile, has tried to downplay the affair.

The claims first appeared in the Czech news magazine Tyden on Monday. The article was based on an interview with the Czech Republic's deputy Trade and Industry Minister Martin Pecina. Tyden said the ministry's draft energy plan to the year 2030 included a proposal to build new reactors to meet rising demand, and that expanding Temelin was the cheapest option. Tyden said if the plan is approved by the cabinet, work could begin in 2009.

The comments were met with a chorus of disapproval from neighbouring Austria. The country is fiercely non-nuclear, and has clashed with the Czech government before over Temelin. Kerry Skyring is a journalist for Radio Austria International:

"It was an immediate reaction, both in the media and from politicians. The idea that Temelin might be dramatically enlarged hit the headlines in news bulletins on Tuesday afternoon. There was a reaction immediately from the Environment Minister Josef Proell. And the Austrian ambassador to Prague made a verbal protest to the Czech government."

Austria's environment minister claimed Czech electricity production already exceeded domestic demand by ten percent, dismissing Mr Pecina's comments as "more than dubious". Even the Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, decided to speak out, saying that according to "all other sources" in the Czech Republic, Temelin would never be expanded.

The Czech government says the cabinet has no plans at present to build more reactors at Temelin, and is not even discussing the idea. But environmental groups say the government should dismiss the proposal outright. Jiri Tutter, from the Czech branch of Greenpeace:

"What we should do is in the first place make use of [energy] saving, and secondly to propose energy from renewable resources, which is still on a very low level of use in this country, somewhere in the range of less than 3 percent of current capacity."

Despite moves to play down the reports, the Czech government will almost certainly discuss the Trade and Industry Minister's draft plan at some point in the future. Kerry Skyring from Radio Austria International says the fact that the Czech Republic is even contemplating the possibility of expanding Temelin is enough to spark fury across the border.

"Austria's tradition is being anti-nuclear. It adopted this position as a justification for its own decision to close down a nuclear power station which was almost completed, and that was 25 years ago. Austria made the decision then to be totally non-nuclear. This has become part of the culture, political and environmental - to oppose any shape or form of nuclear power."