Austrian parliament opposes Czech plan for small nuclear reactors at Temelín

The small reactors, which won't be online before 2035, are part of plans to expand Czechia's nuclear energy output. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 16.12.2022 12:00:00 (updated on 16.12.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Austria’s lower house of parliament unanimously passed a resolution rejecting Czechia's plans to build small modular reactors (SMR), the APA news agency reported.

Martin Litschauer, the anti-nuclear spokesman for Austria’s Green party, said he was pleased that a joint application was unanimously approved by the National Council on Wednesday evening.

The Austrian political parties have long opposed nuclear power. The country currently does not have any nuclear reactors and has been calling on Europe to abandon nuclear power since 2012.

The Czech state-controlled energy utility ČEZ plans to start a pilot project for installing a small modular reactor near the Temelín nuclear power plant in south Bohemia. It is supposed to be finished between 2032 and 2035.

ČEZ CEO and board chairman Daniel Beneš said in March said the SMR project does not interfere with ČEZ’s plan to build two standard units at the Temelín site.

“Options for [the standard units] are also part of the tender for the construction of a new nuclear unit at Dukovany,” Beneš said in a press release.

Martin Kuba, governor of South Bohemia, said it is necessary to focus on the future.

“Small modular reactors are the future of energy, and that is why I am actively entering these negotiations on behalf of the South Bohemian Region and support a joint approach,” Kuba said in March.

Austria is concerned over safety near its border

The plan has been mainly opposed by the towns situated in northern Austria, near the border with Czechia. Temelín is less than 70 kilometers from the Austrian border.

Supporters claim that SMRs are safer as the reactors are smaller that the classic ones. Opponents, on the other hand, say that safety is not directly proportional to size.

Litschauer said that the small power plants produced more nuclear waste per kWh. Besides, the problem of storing the spent nuclear fuel has not been solved in Czechia even though a solution was promised in 2000 in relation to the Temelín plant.

“Due to the higher number of reactors, the probability of accidents at SMR increases significantly. It is also to be expected that nuclear power from these mini-nuclear power plants will become even more expensive and that there will therefore be no money for the energy transition,” Litschauer said in a press release.

Too late to help fight climate change

He was also critical of the timing of the project. “The fact that these new nuclear power plant projects will not supply any electricity before 2035 is particularly problematic. They will make no contribution to climate protection," he added.

“These power plants are far too late to be effective, while renewable energy is already saving even more CO2 with each new year,” Litschauer said.

He is also concerned about nuclear fuel being used for weapons and that EU states still relying on nuclear power have so far refused to join the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty that took effect in 2021.

“We must prevent the spread of a technology that lays the foundation for the potential of nuclear weapons, making these materials even less controllable than they already are,” Litschauer said.

A boost to Czech energy security

The Czech government says the SMR project will strengthen the security and independence of the Czech energy industry, which is currently threatened by the war in Ukraine.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) defines the small modular reactor as a power plant that produces electricity of up to 300 MW per module. The IAEA also states that 50 countries are currently working on these reactors.

Small modular reactors are small building units that are manufactured in a factory and then transported to a selected site where they are assembled. Because of their variable power output, they are expected to be able to supplement and back up renewable energy sources, particularly wind and photovoltaic power plants, according to ČEZ. 

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