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Slovenia Nuclear Incident Sparks International Outcry


Austria and legislators of the European Parliament are leading demands Thursday for an explanation on what caused a water leak at a nuclear plant in southeastern Slovenia. Stefan Bos reports from Budapest.

In a statement, Austria's environment minister, Josef Proell, said his government has serious doubts about Slovenia's atomic warning system following Wednesday's leakage at that country's only nuclear power plant.

Proel said Slovenia had initially informed neighboring states Austria, Italy and Hungary that the leak was just an exercise, although it set off an alarm across Europe. Workers shut down the plant, several hours after the incident occurred.

Slovenian Environmental Minister Janez Podobnik has admitted that his country's nuclear watchdog had made a mistake, but he says his country had almost immediately informed the European Commission, the EU's executive about the breakdown.

He said no nuclear materials were released in the atmosphere.

"There was no accident, just a minor water leakage," Podobnik said. "The situation is fully under control. And there is no impact on the environment and to the people."

However, the European Commission responded by activating its European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange which transmitted the information to all 27 EU member nations.

The system was introduced in 1987 after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to provide early notification and information exchange in the event of a radiological or nuclear emergency.

The co-chair of the parliamentary European Greens-European Free Alliance, Monica Frassoni, demanded an explanation from the Commission.

"The alarm is now not sounded any longer, but there are doubts what really happened? And why in the first place this alarm was sounded," said Frassoni. "It is very unusual. So given that the commission is with us and Slovenia is currently chairing the commission we should call upon the Commission to explain to the European parliament and to the public as what are the real reasons why this very odd procedure."

The United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency has said it is also closely monitoring the situation and that it is close contact with Slovenia and its neighbors. The incident has overshadowed planned talks of EU ministers in Luxembourg on issues such as climate change.

Austria has said the incident should lead to a new discussion about the usage of nuclear energy in Europe.

The 25-year-old plant, east of the capital Ljubljana, reopened last November after being shut down for a month for maintenance work when insulation was added to the reactor building and 53 of the plant's 121 fuel elements were replaced. It is jointly owned by Slovenia and neighboring Croatia, and was built by an American-Japanese company Westinghouse.

The plant provides some 20 percent of electricity used in Slovenia and satisfies 15 percent of Croatia's power needs. Despite pressure on Slovenia to look for alternative sources, it wants to build a second nuclear reactor at Krsko 2017.

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