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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

US Bank to Finance Czech Nuclear Power Plant

Air Date: Week of

Thomas Lalley reports from Washington, DC on debate over U.S. government assistance for construction of a nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic. The Czechs say finishing the half-built Soviet-designed plant will relieve the region of damaging air pollution. But critics say that the technology is outdated and the U.S. should instead be supporting energy-efficiency programs.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

The Clinton Administration has agreed to help the Czech Republic complete a half-finished nuclear power plant and bring it up to Western safety standards. The US Export-Import Bank will guarantee loans to finance the project, which the Czechs say will be an environmental plus for their new country. But critics in the US say the economics and the design of the plant are in serious question. From Washington, Thomas Lalley has this report.

LALLEY: The Soviet-designed plant will replace older and more polluting power plants, which are destroying Bohemian forests and contributing to air pollution. The Czech Republic has secured almost half a billion dollars in federally-backed loans from private banks, and will use the money to pay Westinghouse to finish the plant, which is located in the town of Temelin, about a hundred miles from Prague. But opponents in the US say there are serious safety concerns with the plant. Their concerned that Westinghouse's technology will be incompatible with the Soviet-era technology. There are concerns about the integrity of the plant's containment vessel, and Temelin has no evacuation plans for the area around the plant. Critics also say the deal is a half-billion-dollar bet on outdated technology. David Bakter is an economist with Greenpeace.

BAKTER: Why not give a $400 million loan for energy efficiency in the US? Or energy efficiency outside the US? You're going to create a lot more jobs there. Why use tax dollars to create a nuclear hazard in Central Europe that most people in the area and surrounding countries are opposed to?

LALLEY: But a number of Federal agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Security Council, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency, have backed the loan, and vouched for the plant's safety. And according to Cecil B. Thompson, a director of the Export-Import Bank, the bank didn't see any compelling reasons to deny the loan.

THOMPSON: In order for the Export-Import Bank to have denied this application, we would have had to have found that the Czech Republic wasn't credit worthy, and to have denied this application on the basis of environmental considerations would have required the board to have said our engineers didn't know what they were doing. And there was just absolutely no basis for that.

LALLEY: Representatives of the Export-Import Bank have to testify about Temelin before Congress this month, even though Congress has no authority to block the loan. But some influential members of Congress, including Democratic Senator Patrick Leahey and Representative Joe Kennedy, say they will press for new regulations ensuring that future loans by the Export-Import Bank will be more environmentally sensitive. For Living on Earth, this is Thomas Lalley in Washington.



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