Slovakia to Reopen Nuclear Plant During Gas Shortages

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- Slovakia will restart a nuclear power plant unit it had shut down at the end of 2008 to comply with its EU accession agreement because cuts in Russian gas supplies threaten to cause power blackouts, officials said Saturday.

Bratislava declared a state of emergency Tuesday after the flow of Russian gas stopped, and the government said the 440-megawatt unit at the older nuclear power plant, Jaslovske Bohunice, had to be put into operation again to maintain the stability of the entire electricity grid.

"We are aware that this is a violation of the accession agreement, but this is happening at a time of crisis," Prime Minister Robert Fico said after the government made the decision at an extraordinary meeting.

"Damage from violation of the accession agreement is smaller than damage that would be caused by a collapse of the electricity system."

Nikolaus Berlakovich, Austria's environment minister, said it was "completely unacceptable" that Slovakia decided to restart the reactor and is urging Brussels to take action.

Fico said the unit should resume power production in less than six days and would remain in operation until Slovakia had guarantees of "absolute stability" in gas supplies.

Under the state of emergency, the gas firm SPP, run by GDF Suez and E.On, is reducing gas deliveries to large customers with annual consumption exceeding 60,000 cubic meters to a "safe minimum."

It is maintaining full gas supplies to households, hospitals and schools from its reserves.

Gas-powered electricity generation is also affected by gas supply restrictions, which threaten the stability of the power grid, the Cabinet has said.