A murky dispute over who's looking after the security of Slovakia's Mochovce nuclear power plant has left the reactors without a contracted security service, forcing local police and plant employees to guard the facility themselves.
The problem began in late September when the plant's contract with the Košice-based security firm G5 ended before a new company had been signed on. Although a May tender to decide which firm would guard the plant had re-selected G5, which first began operating at Mochovce in 1997, state-owned energy utility Slovenské Elektrárne's (SE - the operator of Slovakia's nuclear plants) board of directors ignored the tender results and instead hired the Bratislava-based SBS Dynasty for the job.
However, it was then discovered that SBS Dynasty lacked the necessary license from the Slovak Nuclear Control Office (ÚJD) to provide nuclear security services, forcing Mochovce to cobble together a temporary solution.
The caretaker status of the plant's security operations, and the refusal of SE officials to address the controversy publicly, has resulted in accusations of clientelism from economic analysts and negligence from environmental activists.
"There are many groups which would like to take advantage of the many lucrative contracts SE or any other state run company has to offer," said Marek Jakoby, an analyst with the independent Bratislava economic think tank MESA 10. "The fact that SE representatives haven't yet explained what really happened makes the whole security contract even more suspicious."
Greenpeace Slovakia's Ľubica Trubíniová said that the muddled security picture at the plant was "dangerous". Indeed, after carrying out checks on the temporary guards, the ÚJD nuclear control body itself announced on October 10 that "mistakes [had occurred] while securing entries to and exits from the premises."
"They [SE] don't realise the danger of the situation," Trubíniová said from her Bratislava office. "It's sad that the public hasn't been told what really happened. This silence leads us to believe that somebody from among the SE board of directors had a vested interest in giving the contract to a certain company."
With SE head Vincent Pillár failing to explain clearly why the unqualified SBS Dynasty had been given the lucrative job, many questions remained unanswered in the Mochovce case as The Slovak Spectator went to print October 12.
"Pillár [the replacement for former SE head Štefan Košovan, who stepped down from the post in June after being accused of clientelism - ed. note] simply cancelled the results of the [May] tender and decided himself that the contract should be given to Dynasty," said G5 executive director Roman Smrek.
Pillár, for his part, said that he had chosen the new security firm after being advised to do so by the Economy Ministry in an effort to diversify SE's contractors.
"We considered it unacceptable that one security service should have a monopoly in providing services to SE, especially in such an area as nuclear energy," he wrote in a media statement on October 2.
SE officials, however, would offer no further explanations. When contacted by The Slovak Spectator on October 11, SE spokesperson Alena Melichárková said she would not comment on a TV Markíza report alleging that Dynasty had actually finished fourth in the May tender, and added that SE would not comment on any other aspect of the situation until an inspection by the Economy Ministry had been concluded.
The information void caused Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Ivan Mikloš to publicly question SE's motives. "The lack of information raises doubts about the transparency of the tender," he said on October 2.
Representatives of Dynasty - a firm with ties to former Economy Minister Ľudovít Černák, who resigned in October 1999, also under accusations of corruption - defended their appointment.
"There's been a lot of talk about some kind of lobby behind Dynasty just because I know Černák personally," said Dynasty owner Marian Guman, adding that he had known Černák since 1992 when they were members of the same political party - the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS). "My conscience is absolutely clear because I never asked him for any kind of lobbying in favour of my company."
Trubíniová, however, said that since the firm had not won the tender but had still been appointed, "personal interest" must have been involved in the decision.
Dynasty's Guman responded that reports his firm had finished fourth had not been proven. "I don't even know what place my company finished," he said. "The results of the tender weren't public."
Both Guman and Melichárková also refused to disclose the figures of the security contract, but Mochovce spokesman Rastislav Petrech said that SE's total security service costs were annually between 80 and 100 million Slovak crowns ($1.5 to 2 million).
While Mochovce representatives insisted that the safety of the plant had not been endangered by the situation, critics and the ÚJD nuclear watchdog disagreed. The ÚJD set an October 20 deadline for SE to find a final solution to the temporary security operations.
Greenpeace's Trubíniová opined that by using plant employees to act as security guards, a dangerous situation had been created because those employees had been forced to abandon their normal posts. Furthermore, she said, police officers were not qualified to work at a nuclear power plant.
"The local police police don't have the necessary training to guard nuclear reactors," she said. "And Mochovce employees were taken away from their posts to fill in for the absent security. By being away from their proper posts, the safety of the plant must be endangered."
Countered Petrech: "Mrs. Trubíniová doesn't know what she's talking about. With our own staff and the policemen guarding the plant, Mochovce is safe."
"We have experienced staff for this kind of job," he continued. "It's actually the same system we had here before we hired G5. Until then, we guarded the plant with our own people who were properly trained and well-qualified to do the job."
When asked why SBS Dynasty had been hired even though they had not been approved by the ÚJD, Petrech said that only SE could respond. However, neither Pillár nor SE's spokesperson would comment on the issue.
Meanwhile, analysts and critics again bristled at SE's lack of communication, and said that clientelism would not be eradicated from state-run companies until government parties lost the power to appoint management. "Until the sector is privatised, such cases are very likely to continue," said MESA 10's Jakoby.