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Friday, 13 October, 2000, 07:25 GMT 08:25 UK
Czech reactor: Twenty years of controversy
Temelin plant
The Temelin plant has begun producing electricity after decades of controversy
Originally conceived by the Communist Government of Czechoslovakia, the nuclear power plant Temelin was delayed by safety and environmental concerns following the 1989 revolution that brought democracy to the country.

The plant lies close to the Austrian and German borders
Opponents of the plant point out that its original design is similar to that of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine, the site of a nuclear accident in 1986.

But the plant was redesigned to Western safety standards in the early 1990s, following international inspections.

The redesign included reducing the number of reactors from four to two.

International repercussions

Austria, the Czech Republic's nuclear-free neighbour to the south, has been among the most vociferous opponents of Temelin, which lies about 50 kilometres from the Czech-Austrian border.

There is only one option: to hope the reactor is safe

Czech President Vaclav Havel

Just days before the plant went on-line, the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel is reported to have warned the Czech Prime Minister of the consequences for the country's bid to join the European Union.

The German Environment Minister, Jurgen Trittin of the Green Party, has expressed reservations about the plant's emergency safety mechanisms.

Havel concerned

And the plant has domestic critics as well, including the country's President, former dissident Vaclav Havel.

Havel has called Temelin "meglomaniacal".

He told Czech Radio he believes "There is only one option: to believe and hope that the reactor is really safe".

Czech President Vaclav Havel
Havel has called the plant meglomaniacal
He also said that he did not think Temelin would prevent the Czechs from joining the European Union.

The Czech Environment Minister Milos Kuzvart has been an outspoken opponent of the plant.

He tried to delay it by demanding new environmental reviews in April 2000.

And Czech anti-nuclear campaigners have been active as well.

They have pointed out that the nuclear plant has no long-term plan to store waste.

Environmental advantages

But Ladislav Kriz, a spokesman for the plant's operator, said Temelin can store waste safely for 10 years.

The Czech Power Company, which built Temelin, argued that the country will reap environmental gains from opening the nuclear plant.

It said that bringing the plant on-line will enable them to shut down polluting brown-coal-fired plants in the north of the country.

With Temelin operational, CEZ estimated, "it will not be necessary to mine and burn about 12 million tonnes of brown coal, which will have a positive impact on the quality of the environment."

Temelin has cost 98 billion Czech crowns ($2.4bn) to date, said spokesman Kriz. Only one of the plant's two reactors is now operational. Reactor 2 is due online in 2002.

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