And now for the bad news. International safety inspectors released preliminary findings on Slovakia's Mochovce nuclear plant on May 15 to Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar (middle).
Wolfgang Kromp, the head of the inspection team, issued an urgent warning on May 15 to Slovak Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima and Mochovce plant director Tibor Mikuš. "For the time being," Kromp wrote in a public appeal, "it is out of the question to launch a chain reaction in the first block, because it could lead to nuclear contamination of the reactor."
The day after Kromp's statement, several European Parliament (EP) deputies added their voices to the growing clamour against Mochovce. Marilies Flemming, an EP deputy from the Austrian People's Party, criticized Slovakia for having been in too much of a hurry to bring Mochovce on line as an electricity producer. "Hasty connection of the plant into the electrical supply mains will evidently create a situation where it will be complicated to disconnect the plant after its potential shortcomings are discovered," Flemming said for the Austrian Press Agency APA.
The inspection commission charged that the reactor's compression container is technically flawed, because of faulty welds and low quality material used in its construction , and warned that if the plant were activated, the container casing might crack and contaminate the whole reactor
On May 18, Klima, accompanied by Austrian Minister for Consumer Protection Barbara Prammer, delivered an aide-mémoire to Slovakia's Ambassador to Austria, Jozef Klimko. The diplomatic note requested that Mečiar postpone the trial testing of the first reactor, scheduled for May 20, until the group of experts had all required data at its disposal.
The Slovak government, so far, has been silent regarding Kromp's statement and Klima's official request, with government spokeswoman Dagmar Buláková saying on May 18 that an official Slovak reaction had not yet been drafted. Mečiar, however, told Slovak state radio on May 15 that he would not postpone Mochovce's planned startup.
But while the Slovak side bided its time, another group of nuclear experts which had examined Mochovce in April 1998, the German-French group RiskAudit, released a statement saying that only 65 of the 87 safety measures demanded by RiskAudit had been met so far at Mochovce. Jean Luc Milehem, a French member of the group, advised on May 18 that an emergency plan be put into effect before the reactor was activated.
One week before his dramatic appeal, ironically, Kromp had been rather pleased with progress on safety issues at the plant. " We would never have dreamed of some of the improvements that were made," Kromp told the ORF Austrian state television station on May 8, adding that there had been some "real progress" since the first inspection of Mochovce three years ago. "We were surprised by the extent of the improvements, especially given the time and budgetary limitations," Kromp said.
Slovak nuclear energy experts said they doubted the validity of Austrian anti-nuclear criticisms. František Janíček, a nuclear safety expert at the Slovak Technology University, maintained that "if the [safety] system at Mochovce did not meet the necessary requirements, the plant would not be launched." He added that neither domestic nor foreign nuclear energy experts would approve an unreliable safety system.
European politicians, however, remained unconvinced of the safety of the Mochovce project. On May 14, the day before Kromp's appeal, 181 members of the European Parliament (EP) had approved a resolution initiated by a group of Austrian deputies. "The European Parliament urges Slovakia to postpone the [plant's] startup until the expert team fully eliminates all doubts about the facility's safety," the resolution read.
On May 1, Mečiar had decisively rejected a similar request by 40 MEP's, spelled out in an April 30 open letter. "Are members of the EP experts in nuclear energy?," Mečiar asked. "If they are, we'll be glad to welcome their technical objections. But we reject their use of inappropriate political statements. We've already had enough of them in Slovakia! The operation at Mochovce will go ahead!"
Miroslav Lipár, head of the Slovak Nuclear Supervision Office, who on May 13 discussed Mochovce safety matters with MEP's in Strasbourg, said the EP's approach reminded him of the way Czechoslovakia was treated by Hitler. "It reminded me of the year 1938 [in Munich], when nobody asked us and decisions had been made about us," Lipár said.
But Ľubica Trubíniová, head of Slovakia's Greenpeace bureau, said that such arguments only clouded a very serious andstraightforward issue. "Ignoring warnings of renowned experts about safety shortcomings [at Mochovce] and trying to activate the first reactor by July 21, as planned, " she said, "is the pinnacle of personal immorality, civic arrogance and political shortsightedness. Instead of waiting for the test results, the Mochovce plant will become an experiment with the lives of all European peoples."