The drawn-out Czech-Austrian dispute over the Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia, located just sixty kilometers from the Austrian border, took a new turn over the weekend when the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Muhammad El Baradei threw his weight fully behind the Czech Republic. In an interview for Monday's edition of the Austrian paper Profil Mr. El Baradei said that Temelin posed no danger to the environment and indicated that the plant's opponents in Austria were obsessed with its existence rather than concerned about its safety.
The interview was bad news for Austrian anti-nuclear activists who had been pushing their government to take the Temelin dispute to an international court. Earlier this year the Austrian government commissioned a legal study to assess its chances of winning such a dispute. The verdict was - practically none. Now, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency - Nobel Peace Prize winner - Muhammad El Baradei has confirmed this opinion. "I do not have the slightest fears for Temelin and I can say so with a clear conscience since I live in Austria," Mr. El Baradei told the paper, advising Austrians to stop focusing on the plant's existence and focus instead on its safety.
The head of the Czech Agency for Nuclear Safety Dana Drabova said while she welcomed Mr. El Baradei's statement she did not hold out much hope that it would bring to an end the seven year long dispute over Temelin.
"Mr. El Baradei based his statement on the results of more than twenty expert missions conducted under the IAEA umbrella in the course of the last fifteen years to assess various aspects of the plant's safety so I would say that his knowledge concerning the safety of Temelin is pretty robust. However, I do not really hope that it will quiet the storm of emotions among upper Austrian anti-Temelin activists. There are very strong emotions in play there and it is very hard to make a rational, pragmatic assessment under such circumstances. But nevertheless, Mr. El Baradei's statement is another piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the overall assessment of Temelin which suggests that Temelin may not be a star among power plants but that it is a perfectly normal power plant that does not endanger anyone."
The upper Austrian anti-nuclear association Atomstop is not convinced. Its activists say they plan to renew blockades of the common border as of mid-September and will persist in their efforts to get the nuclear power plant closed down.
The blockades - which were recently expanded to all Czech-Austrian border crossings - have put increasing strain on Czech-Austrian relations, with Prague insisting that Vienna guarantee the right of free movement across the border.
On a semi-official visit to the Austrian capital last week President Klaus attempted to diffuse the tension - saying that the Temelin dispute should not be overly dramatized and expressing the belief that time - and the pro-nuclear energy trend in Europe - would eventually heal the breach.