Austria furious at re-opening of nuclear plant
"We were really aghast when we heard that it's being taken back into use," was the angry comment from Herwig Schuster - spokesperson for the Austrian branch of Greenpeace.After numerous protests, from Austria in particular, the Bohunice V 2 nuclear power station, located just 100 km from Vienna, was officially closed at the end of last year. But now, because of the problems with the supply of gas from Russia, the Slovak government has indicated that it wants to bring the reactor back into use.
Greenpeace's Herwig Schuster argues that the re-opening would involve an enormous risk:
"Bohunice V 2 is an old Soviet-made power station. The casing is porous, and the level of protection so weak that anything that lands on it - an aircraft for example - would damage it". There are probably few countries in Europe where opposition to nuclear energy is as great as it is in Austria. In 1977, a small majority of Austrians voted against nuclear energy in a referendum. The only Austrian nuclear power station at Zwentendorf, which was due to be taken into service just a few months later, has been left since to become no more than a ruin. As things stand now, no Austrian politician would even dream of proposing the idea of building nuclear power stations.
However, even though Austria is clearly a country without nuclear energy, its anti-nuclear lobby has always found enough to fight against. They have enough on their plate battling the nuclear-driven power plants stations in the country's neighbours, many of them located just the other side of the Austria's borders.
First it was the German reprocessing plant at Wackersdorf which caused a lot of commotion. That was enough to bring on a tumultuous demonstration back in 1987 when then Bavarian Prime Minister Frans-Josef Strauss visited Vienna's Opera Ball. With the rapprochement towards the former Eastern Bloc, the focus shifted to the ex-Communist nations of the Warsaw Pact.
According to Herwig Schuster, the Czech nuclear power station at Temelin may be more modern than Bohunice, but it's dangerous nevertheless:
"In recent years there have been more than 100 breakdowns, which just shows how badly they're running it."In the case of Slovenia's Krško power plant it's the location which is the main problem:
"Krško is located right in the middle of fault zone, where a major earthquake took place 200 years ago."
All in all it's no wonder that - as research has shown - Vienna comes in third place behind Saint Petersburg and Kiev as the European city most under 'threat' from nuclear power stations, despite Austria's own nuclear-free status.
Along with the pressure groups and anti-nuclear lobby, the Austrian government is also strongly against the re-opening of Bohunice. Its closure was specifically mentioned in the EU accession treaty with Slovakia, says Austrian Energy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner:
"It's entirely clear that the closure of the Bohunice plant was a condition for the entry of Slovakia into the European Union. If Slovakia does not stick to the agreement, it would be in breach of the accession treaty. Even an emergency situation could not justify such a violation."
Minister Mitterlehner says that, what's more, Slovakia was given financial compensation for the closure of the nuclear power plant.
"Slovakia received about 614 million euro, not only to close the reactor, but also to develop alternative energy sources. And now we have to ask ourselves what has happened to that money. They should have taken the necessary measures to ensure sufficient power from other sources."
Meanwhile, Austria's Green Party has announced that it will hold a demonstration outside the Slovak embassy.
The Austrians claim that the gas problem with Russia is just an excuse, because only eight percent of Slovakia's energy actually comes from gas.
Nonetheless, the issue of dependence on Russian gas is also the subject of a lively debate in Austria. As long ago as 1968, Austria became the first West European country to become connected to the gas pipelines coming from the then Soviet Union. Since then, more than 60 percent of the country's gas needs have been met by Russia.
Some countries have received no supplies of Russian gas for days due to the dispute between Ukraine and Russia, which has still not been settled. In some Balkan countries, insufficient reserves have meant hundreds of thousands of people have been left without heating in bitterly cold weather. As a condition for its resumption of gas supplies, Russia insists that international observers be in place to ensure that Ukraine does not tap off some of the gas intended for the European market.
Michael de Werd