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Slovakia: Austrian Team Visits Nuclear Plant

Bratislava, 4 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A team of experts will begin a safety inspection at the Mochovce nuclear power plant tomorrow (May 5), a spokeswoman for Slovakia's electricity company Slovenske Elektrarne (SE) says. In a written statement today, SE spokeswoman Alena Melicharkova said the team of experts, with representatives from Austria, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and the U.S., is expected to stay in Slovakia for at least three days. Members of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from Vienna will also participate in the inspection.

The visit was agreed last week, when Slovakia's Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar met Austria's Chancellor Viktor Klima.

Austria, in particular, has been concerned about the controversial Soviet-designed power plant, which is set to begin operating its first reactor this Summer. A second reactor is scheduled to come on-line in 1999. The power plant is located near Slovakia's border with nuclear-free Austria. And, Vienna expressed strong concern as fuel-loading began at the plant last month, in preparation for start-up.

The Hungarian newspaper Magyar Hirlap last week also noted concern about the plant, writing "there is a smaller distance between Budapest and Mochovce, than between Vienna and Mochovce.

European Union (EU) officials, meeting Slovakia official last week in Luxembourg, issued a statement, insisting that nuclear safety in Slovakia be strengthened. The EU said it is vital that nuclear reactors of the type at Jaslovske Bohunice be closed down soon, and that Mochovce be modernized to meet international safety standards.

Contrary to reports that fuel-loading at Mochovce had been ordered halted by Meciar, the Associated Press news agency last week reported that workmen continued the operation. The news agency quoted a plant spokesman (Richard Petrech) as saying preparations to put the facility into operation by Summer continue. The spokesman said he had been told only that the plant should not be activated, until the team of experts completes its inspection.

After the visit, the team of experts is expected to present their findings on the plant's safety.

Slovakia currently imports about 15 percent of its electricity needs. But, officials have said Slovakia will no longer have to import energy, once Mochovce's two reactors come into service.