Temelin troubles Trittin

30 August 2001

Germany called for the Czech Republic “to reverse its decision to put Temelin into operation and to close the plant.” The “technical document” from Germany’s federal environment ministry (BMU), headed by Jürgen Trittin, was handed to Czech officials by Germany’s embassy in Prague on the same day as the Czech government commission completed an environmental impact assessment on Temelin.

The news affected the stock market, with shares in Czech power utility CEZ plummetting over 20%.

The German government later tried to play down the report in another statement issued later that day. This did not contain an explicit demand for closure, but said that the German government felt obliged to express the concerns of its citizens. It called for talks with the Czech government and stressed the issue was not connected with the question of the application for EU membership by the Czech Republic. However, a spokesman for the German government confirmed: “The official position of the government is that Temelin is not safe and we recommend that it is closed.” Prime minister Milos Zeman said his cabinet will not issue a reaction to the German appeal. He pointed out that it originated from Germany’s environment ministry and claimed it had not been approved by Chancellor Schröder’s cabinet.

Temelin plant director Frantisek Hezoucky responded by writing an open letter to Mr Trittin, inviting him to visit the plant (see p4 for letter). Trittin later said Germany required an answer from the government of the Czech Republic, and he will not be responding to Mr Hezoucky’s letter.

Matters were not improved when, two weeks later, the European Commission transmitted a Working Paper to Milos Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel. The report on technical safety of Temelin follows six months of talks between Czech and Austrian experts “as part of the efforts to facilitate an understanding on Temelin.” No official response is expected until the document has been translated and considered by all relevant departments including the State Nuclear Safety Office (SUJB). But Prague and Vienna, referring to unofficial information, released contradictory statements on the report.

While Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said recently that the report is positive, the Austrian Environment Ministry says it acknowledges Austrian arguments against Temelin.

The report addresses 29 points that Austria described as problematic. It contains an overview of “basic progress” and “tangible added value in comparison with the (plant’s) previous state.” The EC says Austria had the chance to express its reservations, while the Czech authorities responded with deep and extensive statements. The report divides the 29 points into three groups: those that have been resolved; those that will be the subject of routine dialogue between both countries; and those on which there has been some success in “narrowing the gap” in opinions.

The final report of the European Commission concluding the Melk process is due at the end of September.

Temelin was restarted in the middle of August following a three-month shutdown due to a deformation of a low-pressure part of the turbine. One week later, however, the reactor was shut down again. Plant spokesman Milan Nebesar said the latest glitch had been traced to the plant’s automatic regulators, which would be readjusted.

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