Austrians, Czechs Resolve Nuclear Plant Dispute

PRAGUE, Czech Republic, December 14, 2000 (ENS) - A Czech nuclear reactor will undergo a full environmental impact assessment as part of an agreement to diffuse a longstanding dispute between the Czech Republic and its neighbor Austria.

The Temelín Nuclear Power Plant is 25 kilometers north of the Czech town of Ceské Budejovice and about 50 kilometers from the Czech-Austrian border.

Zeman

Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman. (Photo courtesy The Office of the Czech Republic Government)
It was originally developed by the Communist government of Czechoslovakia, but delayed by safety and environmental concerns following the 1989 revolution that brought democracy to the country.

Austria and Germany claim that the plant is not built to western standards. But despite these objections, the first of Temelín's two 981 megawatt reactors began running at test levels in October.

Earlier this week, Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, and Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel resolved differences over Temelín during seven hours of talks mediated by the European Union.

Schüssel

Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel. (Photo courtesy Government of the Republic of Austria)
The pair agreed that a joint commission of experts will examine safety at Temelín, probably in May or June, 2001. The plant must comply with a full environmental impact assessment in line with European Union requirements before producing electricity commercially.

The Czech Republic is one of at least six Eastern European nations negotiating to join the 15 member European Union.

According to an Austrian environment ministry official, the Czech government is "voluntarily extending" the environmental impact assessment to broaden its scope and enable participation by outside experts.

He said that the revised procedures will meet European Union environmental laws and comply with United Nations environmental impact assessment rules signed in Espoo, Finland in 1991.

The Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context stipulates that countries must notify and consult with neighbors over projects likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact across boundaries.

Temelín

Temelín Nuclear Power Plant. (Photo courtesy CEZ)
This involves participation by citizens potentially affected, including in neighboring countries, as well as multilateral consultation at government level.

Austrian anti-nuclear campaigners have staged several border blockades and vigils protesting against Temelín. The protesters argue that Temelín's original design is similar to that of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986.

The plant was redesigned to Western safety standards in the early 1990s, and the number of reactors reduced from four to two.

This has not satisfied anti nuclear campaigners within the Czech Republic itself. Even the country's Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart tried to delay it coming online by demanding new environmental reviews in April this year.

Kuzvart is a founding member of the Society for Sustainable Life and a member of the Czech Society for Radiation Protection.

Kuzvart

Czech Environment Minister, Milos Kuzvart. (Photo courtesy The Office of the Czech Republic Government)
Aside from safety issues, opponents say there is no long term plan to store radioactive waste from Temelín.

The plant's operators, Czech power company CEZ says Temelín can store spent fuel and medium and low active wastes for 10 years, enough time to develop a long term storage policy.

The company adds that the plant can bring numerous environmental rewards. With Temelín operational, obsolete coal power plants in the heavily polluted northern Bohemia region can shut down and an estimated 12 million tonnes of brown coal can remain in the ground.

Another advantage is that it will not be necessary to mine one million tonnes of limestone for desulphurisation every year, says the company.

Nuclear power plants do not release carbon dioxide, the foremost greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, points out CEZ. Economically, Temelín will allow the Czech Republic to meet its own energy needs more cheaply and satisfy increasing consumer demands.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}