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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK

World: Europe

Czechs press on with nuclear plant

The Temelin nuclear plant should have been completed in 1987

By Ray Furlong in Prague

The Czech Government has decided to press ahead with completion of the controversial Temelin nuclear plant in the south of the country.

Temelin is over 10-years late and is way over budget, so the government said costs must not rise any more and it must now be in service by September next year.

It took the Czech Government five hours of discussion, ending in the small hours of the morning, before it arrived at a conclusion.

But even then there was no consensus, with 11 ministers supporting Temelin and eight either against or abstaining.

Spiralling costs

Temelin is a controversial mix of Soviet-era technology with an American-designed safety system tacked on.

But the main criticism of the plant is that its completion date, originally 1987, has been put back several times and the final cost has spiralled.

[ image: President Havel said Temelin was a Tower of Babel]
President Havel said Temelin was a Tower of Babel
Speaking before the cabinet met, President Vaclav Havel said Temelin was a Czech Tower of Babel.

He accused the main investor, CEZ, of consistently lying about when the plant would be ready and how much it would cost.

The government has not ignored this. It said Temelin must now not go over budget again and that it must also be ready by September next year. If not, the Industry Minister, Miroslav Gregr, says he will resign.

Widepsread criticism

But that is unlikely to satisfy opponents of the plant, which is being criticised both domestically and abroad, particularly by the Austrian Government, which is striving for a nuclear-free central Europe.

It is not clear what will happen if the final completion is again delayed or the final cost again goes up.

The environment minister, who has led a strong campaign against Temelin, said he agreed with President Havel that the CEZ company's assurances on price and completion date could not be trusted.

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