'Under Control': Europe Alarmed about Slovenian Atomic Incident

One day after a nuclear reactor in Slovenia was shut down, authorities say that no radiation leaked out. Still, neighbors are concerned about Slovenia's handling of the incident.

One day after a cooling water leak at a nuclear reactor in the Slovenian town of Krsko set off a European-wide early warning system, officials in Slovenia and Europe say that no radiation escaped and there is no cause for alarm.

The leak was discovered on Wednesday evening and the reactor was immediately shut down, said the Slovenian Environment Ministry. "There has been no effect on the environment and we don't expect any," said the head of Slovenia's atomic supervisory authority, Andrej Stritar. He said that the leak has been found and that workers must now wait until the reactor has cooled down completely before repairs can be made. "We have things under control," Stritar told Reuters.

The Slovenian nuclear reactor at Krsko began leaking cooling water on Wednesday evening.
DPA

The Slovenian nuclear reactor at Krsko began leaking cooling water on Wednesday evening.

On Wednesday evening, however, Europeans could be forgiven for having exactly the opposite impression. Upon discovering the problem, the Krsko facility notified the European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange (ECURIE), an early warning system set up in the wake of the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine in 1986. Immediately, the media began reporting on the "Atomic Alarm" -- as many headlines had it.

Indeed, German Minister of the Environment Sigmar Gabriel on Thursday complained that the media significantly exaggerated the incident. Stories about a European "alarm," he said, were misleading because "we have a European-wide information system…. But there has never been a case when, for example, the European Commission has raised an atomic alarm. That is simply not true."

Still, the Slovenians have been criticized for their handling of the situation. Initially, the Krsko authorities sent out an announcement that the radiation protection authority in Austria was staging a drill. The correction came before long, with Stritar saying the error resulted from the authorities using the wrong form to report the incident.

Austrian authorities have confirmed that tests have showed no elevation of radiation readings across the border from Krsko. Still, Austrian Environment Minister Josef Pröll said, "even if there was apparently no radiation leak in Krsko, our faith in Slovenia's early warning system is damaged."

It is not the first time that the nuclear reactor in Krsko has hit the headlines. Five years ago, a valve problem led to the reactor being shut down. The facility is 31 years old and is owned by both Croatia and Slovenia, covering 20 percent of Slovenian power needs and 15 percent of Croatia's.

cgh/reuters

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