Austrians increase opposition to Czech nuclear plant

VIENNA, Sept. 6, 2000 (UPI) à‚– Austrians have intensified efforts aimed at preventing next week’s scheduled start-up of Europe’s newest nuclear power plant, Temelin, 40 miles from its border in neighbouring Czech Republic.

The governor of Upper Austria endorsed Wednesday plans by anti-Temelin activists to expand border-crossing blockades this week, and Tuesday night the Austrian parliament passed a resolution linking Temelin safety to proposed Czech admission to the European Union.

“We, Upper Austrians, will not stop (the protests) because the safety of citizens of this country is at stake,” provincial governor Josef Puerhringer told the Czech news service CTK. Meanwhile Puerhringer’s nuclear facilities commissioner Radko Pavolec called Temelin’s activation an “irresponsible” act that “would threaten the safety of residents of central Europe.”

Battling on another level Wednesday, Austrian delegates argued in the European Parliament that the proposed sale of Temelin-generated electricity to Austrian utilities may violate EU anti-trust laws.

Yet the Czech government has refused to yield. The state-owned utility CEZ and the government’s State Nuclear Safety Office are sticking to plans to activate the first of two, 1,000-megawatt reactors starting Sept. 15, with the goal of full-power production by next spring.

Nuclear safety officials also downplayed the discovery of minor water leaks last week during pressure tests of the plant’s “primary circuit.” The leaks were described as “small drops of water” that normally ooze out during such tests. Officials said repairs were under way.

With start-up looming, Temelin supporters have been clashing this summer over the safety of the plant’s technical design. Although it’s been retrofitted by the U.S. company Westinghouse to meet Western standards, the $3 billion plant was designed during the Soviet era using a system that’s now considered outdated.

In general, Europeans consider Soviet-style reactors dangerous. For evidence, they point to the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine 14 years ago. However Czech officials have rallied around Temelin. Wednesday, Czech Health Minister Bohumil Fiser declared that Austrians living in the Temelin vicinity have nothing to fear, and Agriculture Minister Jan Fencl called the Austrian parliament’s resolution “unfair.”

Czech President Vaclav Havel and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel have discussed the issue on the phone, and a nuclear hotline is planned between government officials in Prague and Vienna.

Yet the government and some in the Czech press have painted Austrian opponents as hysterical. After activists ended their first blockade protest Saturday, Czech cabinet spokesman Libor Roucek declared that the blockades were “counter-productive and will not stop the launch of Temelin.” During the protest, hundreds of protesters used tractors to block roads at three Austrian-Czech border crossings for five hours. Another wave of blockades-at more border crossings-is scheduled to begin Friday afternoon.

German anti-nuclear activists have threatened similar blockades on the German-Czech border. Germany’s No. 2 political party, the Greens, as well as the country’s environment minister adamantly oppose Temelin, and activists have threatened to boycott German utilities that buy power from the plant.

Officially, the Vienna government has not endorsed the blockades.

A foreign ministry statement said the action “does not harmonize” with Austria’s good-neighbor policy.

Yet no arrests were made during last week’s incident. In the same way, parliament’s new anti-Temelin resolution runs against the grain of official Vienna policy, which says nuclear safety should not play a role in the Czech application for EU entry.

But some Austrian leaders, such as far-right politician Jàƒ¶rg Haider, have threatened to veto Eastern Europe expansion unless the EU removes the sanctions imposed in February to protest Vienna’s new coalition government, which includes Haider’s party. Czech Republic is banking on Temelin to improve its balance of trade with Austria and Germany. The plant is also seen as a clean alternative to the country’s aged and dirty coal-fueled power plants.

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