At last, an agreement on Temelin

1 January 2002

European enlargement commissioner Günther Verheugen said that Austria and the Czech Republic had reached an agreement on Temelin, allowing the closure of the energy chapter of European Union membership negotiations.

On November 29, 2001, Czech prime minister Milos Zeman and Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel agreed in Brussels that Austria would consent to the closure of the Czech energy chapter in exchange for the Czech Republic's fulfilling seven Austrian demands relating to the safety of Temelin. The obligation for the Czech side to strengthen safety inspections and information-sharing procedures will be written into the accession treaty.

The agreement also includes a rule under which the Czech side will have a say on possible blockades of state borders.

The agreement may have upset the privatisation of CEZ, as the costs of upgrading Temelin's safety systems over the next few years might be unattractive to would-be buyers. Electricité de France (EdF) has indicated it is interested in buying CEZ without Temelin, but the Czech government has said that it will not sell CEZ without Temelin. Privatisation of CEZ has been delayed until January 7, as the government was not satisfied with the only offer it received - from Italy's Enel for over Kc140 billion ($3.9 billion). EdF submitted its bid ten minutes after the government's deadline. Enel and EdF had been invited to submit bids for at least Kc200 billion ($5.6 billion).

Austrian vice chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer has said the Temelin issue remains "a bone of contention." Riess-Passer, of the Freedom Party of Austria, which governs in coalition with chancellor Schüssel's Austrian People's Party, claimed that the agreement was incomplete and that the Freedom Party "will not accept that its views are ignored." The Freedom Party has launched a petition for the closure of Temelin.

Heinz Fischer, chairman of the National Council, the lower house of the Austrian parliament, has criticised the campaign by the Freedom Party, saying the collection of signatures against Temelin will question the entire EU enlargement process. Fischer is himself against putting Temelin into operation, but condemned connecting the issue with vetoing the entry of the Czech Republic into the EU.

Temelin resumed start-up tests at the end of November after a leaking circulation pump caused the latest shutdown, this one lasting one month. Last month the Czech nuclear power regulator SUJB allowed output to be raised to 90% from 75%. Temelin CEO Frantisek Hezoucky said he expects to request permission to advance to 100% output early this month. Trial operation is planned to be launched in March and last 18 months.



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