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19. 5. 2011 15:07

Nuclear power plants must be tested by experts, not politicians

Prime Minister Petr Nečas at the European Nuclear Forum in Prague

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am glad that we have come together once again in such large numbers. Because the times are truly extraordinary and the dimes require this discussion. This year's ENEF conference is truly extraordinary, and it is drawing attention both at home and abroad.Prime Minister Petr Nečas at the European Nuclear Forum in Prague

The reason for this increased awareness is clear: After the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, nuclear power once again finds itself at a crossroads, and once again, in a number of countries, its place in the energy mix is in play. The accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has affected the entire world. But the greatest impacts on the nuclear sector and the economy will most likely not be in Japan, but paradoxically in the European Union, which lies on the opposite side of our planet.

Nuclear energy is now going through a stress test as a result of this accident. All this comes at a time when a number of EU countries have decided to build new nuclear units, extend existing units or, after some time, to return to nuclear energy.

Aside from France, Finland, Italy, Great Britain, Sweden, Poland and Slovakia, the Czech Republic has decided in this way as well.

But in connection with this accident, several states have already re-evaluated their plans for further development of nuclear energy and a number of others have stopped the projects they had prepared. At the same time, the most marked change in approach occurred in public opinion in our neighbouring Federal Republic of Germany. But the Czech Republic is not among these states and will not be.

The nuclear crisis in Japan will not change the Czech Republic's intention to complete construction on the Temelín nuclear power plant.

Stress Tests

On the basis of the European Council's decision, stress tests for nuclear power plants in the EU are now being prepared. But the question the tests' results should should bring an answer to will not be: "Are our nuclear power plants safe enough?" We have an answer to that. They are. Throughout their lifetimes, nuclear power plants go through periodic safety evaluations; they are repaired according to their results and are constantly and continually modernised. Constant improvements in the level of security achieved is a categorical imperative for nuclear energy.

What must be asked is this: "In light of Fukushima, what can we do so that our plants can be even more robust and safer?"

All the criteria of the stress tests should be agreed upon by the middle of this year. WENRA (the Western European National Regulators' Association) has already presented its proposals for these tests, and today as part of the risk working group, we also expect a presentation of the ENEF proposals.

The tests will then be evaluated by the European Commission and the European Council, which will approve their final form in June. The Commission will file the stress tests' results in its first report to the European Council in December.

It is certain that our main goal is to achieve the maximal reasonably achievable level of security for all nuclear facilities. For this reason, our priority is to carry out stress tests beyond the EU's borders as well.

Considering the diversity of European nuclear facilities, it is also essential that these tests be technologically neutral.

We would consider it unacceptable if the criteria were set in such a way as to rule out across-the-board certain types of equipment or technology.

I would like to tell you that according to the Lisbon Treaty, the makeup of Member States' energy mix is exclusively the right of the Member State, and no one can interfere with this right. Responsibility for the security of nuclear power plants on the territory of the Member State falls into its exclusive and sovereign rights. And I am certain, that every European government operating nuclear power plants places great emphasis on its citizens' safety and is therefore doing everything to make nuclear energy safe.

Likewise, the issue of enforcing the fulfilment of security criteria is decided with sovereign power by every individual Member State. The Czech Republic fully supports carrying out the stress tests, and in their realisation in nuclear power plants it will respect the conclusions of the WENRA and ENSREG expert organisations.

However, the Czech Republic rejects any possible unfounded political interference, both into the expert-defined criteria for the tests and in the evaluation of their fulfilment. It is essential that the rules defined and the evaluation of the stress tests remain on an expert, and I want to emphasise, on a highly expert level. We must not allow politicisation of this problem. I am especially convinced that the aspect of terrorism cannot be part of these tests and their evaluation.

The Czech Republic holds the opinion that it is necessary to first technically evaluate the sequence of events which occurred at the Fukushima nuclear power plant and only then, on the basis of these detailed analyses, take adequate technical, organisational and political steps.

It is essential that the rules defined and the evaluation of the stress tests remain on an expert, and I want to emphasise, on a highly expert level. On the level of rational measures and not on the level of speculation on whether or not we are in God's hands.

The Future of the Atom

Nuclear energy has an irreplaceable place in the European energy mix, and the future of European energy is hard to imagine without the atom, especially for the following reasons:

  • The need to limit dependence on supplies from unstable regions and Russia,
  • The rising price of oil and natural gas,
  • Maintaining commitments to cut carbon dioxide,
  • The need to utilise the industrial potential of nuclear energy as well.

We must be realists. Wind, solar rays and water are unstable elements. Renewable sources cannot fully replace current traditional energy production.

The Czech Republic fulfils all strict standards for the operation of nuclear facilities. In the long term, the question of security of nuclear power plants and their operation is absolutely a priority.

But what awaits us in the near future is not only a discussion on keeping the atom as a legitimate source in the energy mix. It is certain that a discussion will appear on keeping the European market open to all nuclear technologies.

Potentially strong pressure within the EU on the use of only European, and therefore the "safest" nuclear technologies could in the final result lead to a loss of price and technological competitiveness for European nuclear technologies.

Considering the future, I believe it is important that we in the EU manage to set rational, transparent and above all non-discriminatory terms for the development of the European nuclear sector.

And this regardless of the means of financing or insuring new nuclear projects, the operation of existing reactors or for the research and implementation of new nuclear technologies.

This will not be an easy period for the nuclear sector, and this is why we should also not underestimate communication with the public.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention.

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