NGOs call for CEE area nuclear phase-out

Safety of central, eastern, European nuclear power plants heavily criticised at Vienna conference

Environmental groups from around Europe severely criticised safety standards in nuclear plants situated in central and eastern Europe (CEE) yesterday, at the close of a three-day conference in Vienna.

In a final statement, the groups condemned Ukraine's attempts to get two reactors at Rovno-Khelmnitzky completed with financial aid from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and Euratom. Ukraine has asked for a loan worth nearly Ecu1bn. The environmental groups described the project as "risky" and claimed that that the Ukrainian energy sector was "chaotic".

Global 2000, one of the conference organisers, published a report concluding that low safety standards at CEE nuclear power stations could put utilities in western Europe under severe financial pressure. Inadequate safety standards meant that electricity could be produced at "dumping prices," the report said.

According to the report, nuclear stations in Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia. Lithuania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic "cannot be brought up to standards comparable with those in France or Germany at reasonable costs, so close-down is the only option which makes sense." The EU has spent Ecu124m on nuclear safety projects in CEE countries and an additional Ecu150m under the Phare programme, according to one conference speaker. "That's far too little to achieve real safety," he concluded.

The conference was backed by the Austrian government, which stressed its opposition to nuclear power. "Our critical approach [to nuclear power] has changed people's minds also in other countries," Austrian consumer affairs minister Barbara Prammer told the meeting. The minister stressed "Austria's vision of a Europe without nuclear power," and described nuclear energy as "too risky and too expensive" to be an answer to the threat of global warming.

An official in the European Commission's environment directorate told the meeting that "minimum criteria" for safety in CEE nuclear power plants were being applied. But Francois Ruel indicated that these safety standards could not be "strictly binding" in the context of accession negotiations. He expressed pessimism that harmonised, legally binding European minimum safety standards could be developed.

Follow Up:
Global 2000, tel: +43 1 812 57300; Austrian consumer affairs ministry, tel: +43 1 536 3326.

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