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EU: Slovakia Praised For Plans To Close Down Nuclear Plants

The European Union and three EU candidate countries -- Slovakia, Lithuania and Bulgaria -- have long been in a simmering dispute about the closure of atomic power plants that Brussels considers unsafe. RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke reports that according to an EU announcement today, it looks as though Slovakia, at least, has listened to the EU's demands for action.

PRAGUE, 28 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Slovakia has won praise from the European Union on a question with an important bearing on that country's application for EU membership, namely the issue of nuclear safety.

The EU Executive Commission in Brussels today said the Slovak government has officially set a date to close two nuclear reactors at the Bohunice power station. The two reactors will be closed down between 2006 and 2008. Commission spokesman Jean Christophe Filori welcomed Bratislava's decision to set clear closure dates for the reactors, which the EU has long considered unsafe.

Slovak State Secretary Jan Figel announced the dates today in talks with EU officials.

Filori pointed clearly to the importance of the issue by saying that in making this commitment, the Slovak government has confirmed that joining the EU is an "overriding political priority." He said the commission had indicated it would help pay the cost of the closures.

Filori was saying, in effect, that the advancement of Slovakia's EU candidacy depends on action from Bratislava to close down the Bohunice reactors.

His words echo the new tough line set early this month by the EU's new commissioner for enlargement, Guenter Verheugen. Verheugen gave Slovakia, Lithuania and Bulgaria until the end of this year to provide clear timetables for the closure of a total of eight unsafe reactors.

If they did not do so, he said, they could forget about receiving invitations to open concrete negotiations on membership at the EU's December summit in Helsinki.

Two of the eight reactors are located at the Ignalina power plant in Lithuania and four at the Kozloduy plant in Bulgaria, as well as the two at Slovakia's Bohunice plant. Verheugen said all eight fail to meet European safety standards.

He said that apart from firm closure dates, he also wants by the end of the year clear word from the three countries on what they plan to do with their nuclear wastes, and also their energy strategies for the future.

Slovakia today took a step toward meeting Verheugen's demands. The closure timetable, however, appears relatively loose, with 9 years remaining before the reactors are fully closed. Whether this will satisfy Slovakia's neighbor Austria remains to be seen. EU member Austria, which is strongly anti-nuclear, has demanded closure of the Bohunice reactors "as soon as possible," although it has not set a deadline.

The Lithuanian government has already set a tentative date of 2005 for closure of the first of Ignalina's two reactors. A date for the decommissioning of the second is supposed to be determined in 2004. But any dates are subject to parliamentary approval, and this introduces an uncertainty into the matter.

Opposition politicians have already assailed the Lithuanian government for appearing overeager to bow to Brussels' demands. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has tried to smooth troubled waters by saying he considers the political debate healthy. He suggests that there is no point antagonizing the international community, especially in view of the fact that Lithuania enjoys an oversupply of energy production.

The Bulgarians have likewise set informal dates for closure of the four oldest reactors at Kozloduy, namely 2004 for the first pair, and 2008 to 2010 for the second pair. EU officials were in Bulgaria earlier this month for negotiations, but no definitive agreement was announced.