Temelin and our future

How nation deals with debate may affect international image 

For every nation, certain events end up having a greater impact than might be anticipated at the time. For the Czech Republic, the Temelin nuclear plant and the issues surrounding it represent such an event. The facility, drafted 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, Joschka Fischer, recently stated that Temelin should be taken off the energy grid because of his nation’s concerns about the plant’s safety. Some Austrians politicians have gone a step further, insisting that the Czechs be barred from European Union entry should Temelin go into operation. The German and Austrian views reflect their strong Green activism and 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, for example, and blockades of the Czech-Austrian border by Austrian anti-nuclear activists have done 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. Foreign Minister << Jan>> Kavan called the Austrian and German concerns an insult,” thus complicating further negotiations. At least former Foreign Minister Josef Zielenec offered a constructive analysis, stating that while the final decision on Temelin is our sovereign right, the Czech government must not confuse sovereignty with arrogance.

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 act but also the right to convince others.What then, should be the next step? First, the Czech government should do the unthinkable” – thank the Germans and Austrians for stating their concerns; by doing so in a democratic forum to a future EU partner, they are acknowledging the Czech Republic as an equal. Second, because of the differences of opinion about Temelin’s safety and the absence of an EU safety code for nuclear reactors, we should take the lead and ask that Brussels form a commission to create such a code. This would also provide an opportunity to examine and map out Europe’s present and future energy needs. Since Temelin is the impetus for such a commission, the Czech Republic should play a leadership role. Such a role would give us opportunity to state our point of view and to develop constructive negotiating and leadership skills at the international level.

Third, until the commission’s verdict, we should be willing to put Temelin 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. Such a reimbursement could actually represent a huge windfall, wherein the Czech Republic recovers a huge sum of money invested in an energy plant it might 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 Temelin represent a crucial point for the Czech Republic and for its people. 

The writer is a physician and the publisher of The New Presence


The Prague Post29.8.2001

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