Slovaks defy nuclear fears

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THE SLOVAKIAN government defied international concerns yesterday when it vowed to commission a Soviet-designed nuclear reactor deemed unsafe by experts.

Slovakia ignored protests from Austria, whose border runs near Mochovce the Soviet-designed plant at Bohunice, and said it would ignite the fuel rods within days.

The Austrian government said the move was an "affront to Austria" and appealed to the British presidency of the European Union for help.

Tension between the two countries has been rising since a visit to Mochovce last week by a team of 22 experts. Wolfgang Kromp, the Austrian physicist leading the team, gave warning of "the biggest accident imaginable, with catastrophic consequences''. He was particularly concerned about inadequate containment facilities to cope with a Chernobyl-style leak, and possible weaknesses in the steel casing designed to prevent radioactive materials escaping. "Access to data which could have removed this uncertainty was denied," he said.

Austria is in a dilemma. Slovakia cannot close the plant until it has another source of energy. Austria wants to keep good relations with Slovakia, hoping to encourage Bratislava not lock itself out of Europe.

Nato and the EU have rejected Slovakia's application over its record on human rights and its lack of democracy.