Criticality has been achieved in the reactor core at the Temelin site in the Czech Republic, much to the dismay of the Austrians who have responded with widespread demonstrations.

The Russian-designed VVER nuclear reactor has been significantly delayed by numerous upgrades that have been required to raise the installation to Western standards, and the station uses an American control system. However, the Austrians remain unconvinced that the site is safe.

The reactor lies only a few tens of kilometres from the Austrian border with the Republic and although the Czech president has repeatedly assured Austria that the plant poses no threat, all 15 border crossings between the two countries have been blocked by demonstrators demanding that the reactor be dismantled. Demonstrators even included the newly elected Austrian premier, and extended to the Czech embassy in Vienna. The future of the Temelin facility has been linked to the Czech entry into the European Union, of which Austria is already a member, although the Republic has dismissed the idea that its reactor programme and its entry to the Union should be in any way inter-dependent.

In other news from the country, the cabinet is debating an industry ministry plan under which the state’s 67.8 per cent stake in CEZ, the dominant power company, would be sold, along with the national grid and options to secure key shareholdings in the eight regional distributors.

Concerns have been raised that, after the partial privatisation, the plan provides for the grid to be spun off, and two years later the foreign investor would be invited to increase its stake in CEZ to a majority. The plan has its attractions to ministers, as by putting a vertically integrated company up for grabs, the government would be in a position to maximise the price.