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Slovakia To Complete Construction of Nuclear Plant

By Michael Leidig

Vienna, April 17 (RFE/RL) - Slovakia's Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar has given a go-ahead to a controversial nuclear power plant in the Slovak Republic just 100 kms from Vienna.

Meciar signed a contract in Bratislava yesterday with the German-based worldwide engineering firm Siemens and the French company Framatom to complete construction of the Mochovce nuclear power generating station according to Russian design.

The plant's first reactor is not due to go on line until 1998, but the project already has generated international opposition.

Austria has led the way, charging that the design falls short of Western safety standards, has been insufficiently researched, and will be subject to unmeasured earthquake hazards. Government leaders in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have joined in the opposition. Denmark, Luxembourg and Ireland also have registered official disapproval.

Austria's Green Party claims to have obtained a secret report by Slovakia's own atomic energy authority citing faulty welding seams in cooling systems already constructed, widespread rusting of essential parts, poor quality concrete, and other deficiencies.

In a 1978 referendum, Austria became the only country to outlaw nuclear power. This disaffection continues to the present. In rare unanimity, politicians from all five of Austria's political parties voted in opposition to Mochovce during a special session of parliament. They favored a motion to consider withdrawing from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development if it supports the project with a loan.

Hungarian environmentalists say their country is especially at risk because because prevailing winds blow toward Hungary.

Memories of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster fuel anxieties raised by the Mochovce revival. The two VER-448/213 reactors at Mochovce are to have no containment structure. Thus,. any accidentally released radiation would go directly into the atmosphere.

In yesterday's signing ceremony, Meciar defended against the plant's critics. His statement said in part:

"We trust the technical knowledge of renowned companies such as Siemens, Framatome, and Electricite de France. We trust Russian companies. We trust our Czech suppliers. We trust the (International Atomic Energy Authority) experts."

Construction at Mochovce began in 1984 in the former communist-governed Czechoslovakia. It was halted in 1991 for lack of financing. Proponents say the plant is needed to replace aging reactors at nearby Bohunice.