Temelín and our Future

For every nation, certain events end up having a greater impact than might be anticipated at the time. For the Czech Republic, the Temelín nuclear facility and the issues surrounding it represent such an event. The facility, drafted up by the communist regime, is now in the slow start-up process leading to full operation. The start-up continues to be marked by numerous complications, as well as by increasing debate. 

The most vocal debate, as well as opposition, comes not from our own citizens, but from our neighbors. Germany’s Foreign Minister J. Fischer recently stated that Temelín should be taken off the energy grid due to Germany’s concerns about the safety of the plant, while the Austrians went a step further, insisting that the Czechs be barred from EU entry should Temelín go into operation. The German and Austrian views reflect their strong “Green” political party activism, as well as the general anti-nuclear stance of their citizens. To be sure, their arguments and actions have many faults and inconsistencies – the fully operational Czech reactor in Dukovany doesn’t seem to bother them at all, while the blockades of the Czech-Austrian border by antinuclear Austrian activists have done far more harm than good. Nevertheless, their view is the product of national debate and consensus – something the Czech Republic has yet to experience regarding any issue. 

But even more noteworthy than the protests has been the Czech reaction. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan called the Austrian and German concerns “an insult,” thus putting a dense fog around the bridge to further negotiations. At least former Czech Foreign Minister Zielenec offered a constructive analysis, stating that while the final decision on Temelín is our sovereign right, the Czech government must not confuse sovereignty with arrogance.
This important point comes at a very important time. The Czech government needs to understand that achieving aims is done via positive dialogue, not confrontation. (This also happens to be the same mechanism by which post-communist societies can cultivate themselves). Viewing the Austrian and German statements as an attack on our sovereignty merely confirms our inability to see past our noses. Our government should recognize that a fundamental principle of democracy is not just the right to do something, but also the right to convince others to block something. 

What then, should be the next step? Instead of kicking up the sand, the Czech government should do the “unthinkable” – thank the Germans and Austrians for stating their concerns, since by stating their concerns in a democratic forum to a future EU partner, they are acknowledging that partner as an equal. Second, due to the differences of opinion around Temelin’s safety, as well as the fact that the EU itself still lacks a uniform safety code for nuclear reactors, we should take the lead and ask that the EU form a commission to immediately create such a code. This would also provide a good opportunity to examine and map out the EU’s present as well as future energy needs as a whole. Since Temelín is the impetus for such a commission, the Czech Republic should play a leadership role in the commission, thereby providing us with the opportunity to state not just our own point of view, but also to develop constructive negotiating and leadership skills at the international level. Third, until the commission’s verdict, we should be willing to put Temelín on hold. Should the reactor not meet the new EU safety standards, it should be dismantled or updated. And to be fair, in the event of dismantling, the EU should be willing to reimburse the Czech Republic for its outlays. This could actually represent a huge windfall, wherein the Czech Republic recovers a huge sum of money invested on an energy plant it may not have needed. 

For young post-communist nations with emerging democracies, the lessons learned along the way to European integration are just as important as are the ultimate results. This learning process helps create national identities, something that we Czechs still lack. In this respect, the events surrounding Temelín represent a crucial point for the Czech Republic and for its people.

Martin Jan Stránský

This originally appeared in The Prague Post 


The New Presenceautumn 2001

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