Slovenia: Faulty valve caused nuclear plant leak

/ Source: The Associated Press

Slovenia blamed a water leak at a nuclear plant on a faulty valve Thursday, seeking to downplay the incident as EU ministers from Austria and other nations questioned the safety of nuclear reactors.

Slovenian authorities shut down the plant in Krsko, near the Slovene-Croatian border, after the leak Wednesday evening. The leak was confined to the plant building and caused no damage, plant authorities said.

But Austria's environment minister, Josef Proell, said the leak — which set off an EU-wide alert — demonstrated the danger nuclear reactors pose to Europeans and the environment.

"Austria has always taken a critical stance on nuclear energy. For me, such incidents confirm our view," Proell told reporters in Luxembourg, where EU ministers were meeting for talks Thursday.

'Minor water leak'
Slovenia's Environment Minister Janez Podobnik called it a "minor water leak" with his ministry saying there was no risk of radioactive contamination in Krsko, a town of 25,000 people about 60 miles southeast of the capital, Ljubljana.

But Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's environment minister, said any leak involving radioactive water must be considered "a serious incident."

Greenpeace renewed its appeal to EU governments to stop building reactors, saying a meltdown or other incident risks the release of harmful radioactive material.

However, several EU nations are planning to build new reactors to meet power supply needs amid efforts to cut back on heavily polluting coal, gas and oil power plants.

Some countries pushing nuclear power
France, the Czech Republic and Slovakia want full EU recognition of nuclear power as a "clean energy" alternative to carbon-based power sources.

Italy's Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said the Slovenia leak would not affect Italian plans to restart its nuclear program. Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government plans to reintroduce nuclear energy despite its ban in a 1987 referendum.

EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told the European Parliament in Brussels that the alert was issued as a precaution.

"There has been no discharge to the environment," he assured EU lawmakers.

Repairs will be carried out Friday and the plant could restart early next week, said Stane Rozman, chief manager of the Krsko plant. "Everything is normal," he said.