Border blockades mark opening of Czech nuclear plant

The start-up of a controversial nuclear plant in the Czech Republic has provoked anger from German and Austrian Government Ministers and the barricading of borders.

The activation of the Temelin nuclear plant on 11 October, which combines Russian-designed VVER-1,000 reactors with a ‘western’ control system, has provoked furious reactions in Germany and Austria, with borders only 50 km away. Ministers from both countries have consistently argued that the Soviet-era design is not up to Western safety standards (see related story). As and as a result, the German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin and the Austrian Government cast doubts on the nation’s imminent EU-entry, and Czech-Austrian borders remained closed by protesters, German, Austrian and Czech media reported.

“The Czech Republic has committed itself to a complete implementation of EU environment law, according to which this plant should have undergone environmental tests, which it didn’t,” Trittin told the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung. The minister, who has referred to the plant as an “outdated project”, has joined the Austrian Government in calling into question the Czech Republic’s EU entry in as little as three years time, and added that he was assessing whether Germany could block imports of Czech electricity because its energy market is closed to competition.

A recent German Government study which revealed potential problems with the plant’s safety mechanisms in emergency situations, is the basis for the widespread concern. In a further gesture of disapproval, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said he would raise the safety issue at the EU summit in Biarritz and urged it to take a stand of the matter and refused to disperse up to 1,500 demonstrators blocking the traffic at three border crossings. On 13 October all Austro-Czech borders were to be closed by protesters, the Czech news agency, Ceske noviny, reported.

In a further controversy, the German Government, which is committed to switching to renewable and other ‘green’ energy forms, is also worried about the prospect of ‘price-dumping’ on the German energy market from Temelin. During the week, over-capacity forced two of its largest utilities to announce plant closures – including at one nuclear reactor.

The Czech Government, however, has denied that the plant is unsafe, citing approval given by the national Nuclear Safety Office (SUJB) as its justification. Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Telicka has said that he will probably officially turn to the EU in connection with the continuing border blockades.

EC Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said that the executive was very serious about the concern over Temelin concern, but that it had no legal footing to base its reaction on. The EU pursues no common nuclear safety policy and there is no supranational legislation to guide nuclear safety.

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