Temelín spokesman on nuclear safety
Expert rebuffs Austria opposition to power plant's expansion
Posted: August 1, 2012
According to Václav Bartuška, Czech and German nuclear scientists speak the same language."
With three international concerns vying for a tender for the planned 2014 expansion of the Temelín nuclear power plant, the project - overseen by state-owned utilities firm ČEZ - promises to provide local firms with myriad new business opportunities. But the scheme to erect a further two reactors, bringing the total reactors in the Czech Republic to eight, has also elicited furious reactions from Austria, a country that has long opposed the project due to safety concerns. Media in the country, as well as government ministers and the green party BZÖ, have called the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project a "farce."
More than 6,000 people have signed an online petition started by an Austrian NGO to stop the plant, and one Austrian lawyer is attempting to sue the Czech Republic for human rights violations. As ČEZ reviews project bids and prepares to kick off construction next year, The Prague Post sat down with Václav Bartuška, the government spokesman for the expansion of Temelín, to discuss the regional opposition to the project.
The Prague Post: The main criticism leveled at the project so far is that the EIA is insufficient. Have you addressed these criticisms?
Václav Bartuška: The EIA is running at the moment. There will always be criticism and there will always be something that goes on. The process has been running for four years now, since the summer of 2008; there were presentations, quite major ones, two in Austria and one with Germany, about the EIA. There have also been two public discussions that were directly linked to the EIA. We did everything as prescribed by the law, and we expect people will always object. As long as we follow the law, and as long as the public in this country is fine with the project, everything else is just interesting information.
TPP: The Czech Republic currently exports about 15 billion kilowatt-hours, some of it to Austria and Germany. Is Temelín being built to export energy?
VB: Nonsense. We generate about two-thirds of electricity from coal, and one-third from nuclear. All in all, there is about 10 percent from renewables, mostly water and increasingly photovoltaic, which is very costly. So we plan to close down some coal in the next 10-15 years and replace that energy with something else. The question is, do we think Europe will remain an industrial place, or will it turn into the service accountant of the world? If it goes down the drain, and our economy too, then one-half of our energy will exceed our needs. I hope we will keep manufacturing, and that we will keep the core of industry. If the economy declines, and we have to shut industry, sure, we'll have plenty of energy to sell, but that's also about 2 million people unemployed.
TPP: Austria and Germany are already importing energy from the Czech Republic, and German nuclear plants are slated for shutdown by 2022. Is this not a chance to export more energy?
VB: Actually, this is a scary proposition. The thing about Europe today is that two-thirds of member states plan to be importers of electricity (currently one-half of members are net importers), and nobody says from where. Italy has been importing for the last 50 years, and it doesn't say anywhere where this is coming from. What I see more and more is countries that plan to base their energy on Ukraine, Russia and countries in Africa; that's shifting the dependency to a whole new level. Of course we think it's best if we have energy from our own territory.
TPP: A further criticism has centered on contingency planning. The bids were delivered last month, but the project has not yet been decided on. Does this mean current contingency plans fail to adequately address cross-border damages, with Temelín 50 kilometers away from the Czech-Austrian border?
VB: The highest standard you can have today is that of WENRA (Western European Nuclear Regulators' Association). It's the toughest standard in the world, tougher than the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and we have reached that standard. The most catastrophic scenario we have in the planning doesn't have any major damages beyond 700 meters from the reactor. That was one of the requirements of WENRA and one of the requirements for the bids as well.
TPP: There's been a markedly different reaction from Germany and the region of Bavaria, which have presented a detailed list of questions for the project but haven't had the same strong criticism toward it. Why this difference in reaction?
VB: Germany still has the know-how. In Austria, the difficulty is that the questions do not make technical sense, so we answer all the questions, but sometimes it's like Physics 101. Politicians can say they will stop importing nuclear energy, but then they want physicists to talk about it.
TPP: For the construction of the first two Temelín reactors, the Melk Process was agreed on, which set up a considerable infrastructure for communication between Austria and the Czech Republic. How much of that process is still in place?
VB: The real difficulty is that some of the scientists Austria had 10 years ago are no longer with us, and to me, you need the two sides to be speaking the same language, to be discussing the same facts. With Germany we have a much more thorough discussion, because there are scientists to talk to. At the end of the day you need experts in the other country who have credibility inside the community, and Germany has that. In Austria, when some policy maker said, "We won't import nuclear power," no physicist was there to say this was impossible, no one in the media said this, and now it's become part of the public conscience.
TPP: Are there any further discussions planned in Austria and Germany on the project?
VB: I've been invited to discussions in Berlin, where I spoke to professionals, and we've tried to have the same discussion in Austria. I've been there a couple of times, but there was no one on the other side of the table with the knowledge or the willingness to discuss the facts. We'll probably do it again, but the fact that this year I have been to Germany eight times and only once in Austria speaks volumes.
TPP: Lastly, an interesting point of attention has been the question of 'cyber security' at the plant. Is this a real source of concern?
VB: At all nuclear reactors, the controls are completely cut off from the outside world. I'm not aware of any nuclear power plant in the world that is linked to the Internet. What is an issue, and here we come to a point where Austria is no longer a partner to the discussions, whereas Russia and China and the United States are, is the level of dependency on "passive systems," like autopilots in aircraft. So the real question is, what level of security do you want to leave to a machine? I'm not trying to scare people with Terminator and Skynet, but there is now a majority view that machines are better than humans. At the same time, do we not want those four guys there, well-trained and well-prepared? I would prefer the humans to be there, just as I would prefer the pilot to be there.