Austria keeps up the pressure on Mochovce

Experts declare Slovakian nuclear plant safe to power up as political battle continues

Austria's prime minister Viktor Klima says he is still optimistic the Mochovce nuclear power plant in neighbouring Slovakia will not be activated, despite a panel of international nuclear experts saying yesterday the plant was safe.

A long-standing opponent of the plant, Mr Klima said he was confident the fuel rods would not be activated by Slovenské Elektrárne as long as the two governments disagreed over its safety. Talks between Austria, Slovakia and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the safety of Mochovce were due to start today, but are being overshadowed by a row between the two governments over access denied to an international inspection team last month.

The was refused access both to the Mochove's second reactor - due to be completed by the end of 1999 - and to a key safety report. Slovenské Elektrárne denies any part of the plant was out of bounds. However, team leader Professor Wolfgang Kromp later warned of a potential for "the biggest accident imaginable" if activation of nuclear fuel went ahead.

Yesterday, Slovenské Elektrárne brought to Vienna 15 nuclear safety experts, including representatives of Germany's Siemens and Electricité de France (EDF). They declared the nuclear power plant safe, with EDF's director of construction Yves Cousin adding that, including recent improvements to the design, "it is now consistent with Western [safety] standards."

Wulf Bürkle, of Siemens said the plant was an "exemplary project" which was "worth copying". But when challenged, he said the company could not give an absolute guarantee, only that material used in the plant's construction was excellent. "I cannot dare to give such a guarantee," he said.

Opponents of the plant, led by environmental groups Greenpeace and Global 2000, are still not happy the plant is safe. Concern focuses on the lack of a secondary containment system. The "bubble condenser" containment system deployed instead would be useless against a Chernobyl-type explosion, said Alexander Egit of Greenpeace.

"Every time Siemens is asked about safety, it says it has only a 'feeling' it is safe. How can a responsible company like Siemens say it judges a nuclear power plant on a feeling?" he added.

Tibor Mikus, general director of state-owned Slovenské Elektrárne said the plant would go on line following a final review, due to be completed within the next few days.

Follow Up:
Austrian prime minister's office, tel: +43 1 53 11 50; Slovenské Elektrárne, tel: +42 1 75 69 11 11; Greenpeace Austria, tel: +43 1 545 4580; Global 2000, tel: +431 1 812 57300.

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