Temelin nuclear power station again under criticism

Blockade on the border

On Sunday morning the Temelin nuclear power station increased output by a further 20 percent. This was possible after permission was granted by the State Office for Nuclear Safety on Friday, and it is an important step towards bringing the controversial new plant into full operation. The measure met with protests from Austrian critics of the plant and about one hundred of them staged a blockade on one of the border crossings between Austria and the Czech Republic on Sunday. Olga Szantova reports.

It was yet another in a series of protests and blockades on the Czech-Austrian border and, as the activists' spokesman stressed, certainly not the last. The increased output at Temelin means that we will have to protest even more strongly, he said. The activists claim that the nuclear power station is not safe and that the Czech Republic has not given sufficient proof to the contrary.

This view is not shared by experts at the European Commission and in his letter to the Czech and Austrian prime ministers, the European Commissioner for EU enlargement Gunter Verheugen writes that he considers the process of evaluating the safety of Temelin finished and that it is time to end the so called Melk process. It was in the Austrian town of Melk, that the Czech side had agreed to submit any evidence requested to prove the safety of Temelin. Mr. Verheugen is satisfied with the documents presented and he does not consider Temelin an obstacle to closing the chapter on energy, one of the numerous chapters determining the Czech Republic's membership in the European Union.

But while experts may be satisfied about Temelin's safety, Austrian activists are not. They point to the fact that, due to its origin as a Soviet designed reactor, the nuclear power station near the Austrian border presents a safety risk.

The Temelin nuclear power station is a legacy from the old communist regime. At the time of the 1989 political changes it was already under construction and after long discussion, and in spite of criticism from environmental organizations, and from neighboring Austria, it was decided to go on with the project. Safety standards were upgraded by bringing in American technology, and means of making it compatible with the original Soviet design were found.

The blockade of the border was only one in a series of protests. Austrian activists are calling on their government to block the closing of the energy chapter, thus blocking Czech talks on EU accession until the Czech parliamentary elections next year, in hopes that a new Czech government might take a different stand on the Temelin power station.

Meanwhile the tests prior to making the station fully functional, continue. About one half of the 1600 planned tests have been completed and in spite of numerous problems, the State Office for Nuclear Safety is satisfied with the results. And the anti-Temelin activists? They have called the next blockade on the border for October 31st.

Author: Olga Szantová
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