Austria blocking Czech EU membership over nuclear plant

Austria has blocked negotiations on Czech membership of the European Union over safety concerns at a new power plant combining Russian-designed reactors with a ‘western’ control system.

The talks, set for 16 November, have had to be postponed, because of Austria’s objections to the Temelin plant, situated only 50 km (30 miles) from its border and which has begun operating, EU officials said. Austria disagreed with its EU partners on how to approach discussions on the energy sector on talks concerned with the Czech Republic’s entry to the EU, for which it is a frontrunner among the candidates, meaning the EU had no common position to present in the negotiations.

Fiercely anti-nuclear Austria (and to a lesser extent Germany) has strongly opposed the Temelin station with threats of trade embargoes and border closures (see related story), with the treasured plant becoming the nation’s most serious diplomatic battle since the nation split with Slovakia.

Although the Austrian government has warned it will block the Czech Republic’s entry talks unless the plant is stopped for further checks and an environmental impact study, nuclear watchdogs have said that the plant can function safely if a few safety issues are met.

The report by the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA) said that Temelin needs to address concerns over safety valves and high-pressure pipes, which could swing and damage other equipment if they burst in an accident, the Czech Nuclear Safety Office (SUJB), said. “A few safety issues still need to be resolved. If these are resolved, the Temelin units 1-2 should reach a safety level comparable to that of currently operating Western European reactors,” the report said.

SUJB also said that the report commended the implementation of the western control system onto the Soviet era design as the most comprehensive ever done.

WENRA also reportedly said on 10 November that Lithuania’s Ignalina nuclear plant, with its two RBMK reactors- the same type which blew up in the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986- posed the biggest worry of European reactors and cannot reach western European safety standards. Lithuania has said it will close the reactor by 2005 (see related story).

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