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Atomic Energy: In the shade of the cooling towers

For 33 years nuclear power is omnipresent to the people of the villages close to Bohunice. The communistic regime started building the nuclear power plants of Bohunice 10 years before the Prague Spring. Generations have grown up in the shade of the cooling towers. They have gotten used to the plant and its dangers. Nevertheless their opinions about nuclear energy differ.

There are always new incidents at the old atomic power plant of Bohunice
Picture by T. Micke

Some of the inhabitants of the villages close to Bohunice reported a new accident at the plant. They said that there was radiation leaking.

Research shows that indeed tritium – a radioactive isotope of hydrogen – leaked out of an "A1" tank. It seeped into the ground and contaminated the ground water.

An environmental monitoring station located 16 km from Trnava discovered the accident. Water samples were taken in various villages and a radioactive contamination was discovered. However the reactor worker claimed that the contamination was harmless except for those in close surroundings of the plant.

The population was informed of the accident - but obviously in very different ways as interviews show: 15-year-old Petr Trojak is convinced that the ground water wasn't contaminated with radiation but with ammonia. When asked about his opinion on nuclear energy he said: "I think that everything will be under control. I know what happened to these people in Chernobyl. It's horrible! The Americans also used radiation during the war. Back then innocent people had to die as well."

70-year-old Katherina Valova was working in her front garden when we interviewed her. She said indifferently: "That doesn't bother me. I'm an old woman and I'll die soon anyway! The only thing that does bother me is that nothing grows in my garden. I think it's because of the radiation. We were told that our well is contaminated since last fall."

The 26-year-old farmer Igor Mankorocky explains: "If this plant closes down 3200 people will lose their jobs. They can't do that! My father works there. I'd rather die of radiation than starve." When asked about the contaminated drinking water he replies: "Everybody worries about something."

At a small pub with view of the cooling towers of Bohunice three retirees curse loudly about the first Communist president of Czechoslovakia in 1984 while drinking their beer and schnapps. "Klement Gottwald was an idiot! The whole Communistic system was bad!" claims the 72-year-old Rudolf Latkovic and orders another shot of vodka. Rudolf Latkovic used to work at the "A1" reactor for 20 years. He retired 13 years ago: "I have a 34-year-old son. I fear for him and for myself when I think of the plant. It's in a bad state. The "A1" wasn't renovated sufficiently. Now our drinking water is polluted." Vit Seltan (84) interrupts his buddy: "So what? If I die, I'll die. Everybody has got to die someday."

The three retirees have heard of the disastrous reactor catastrophe in the Soviet Union. Jan Nestes (66) used to work for the local train company: "We were told that there had been an accident. Not much more than that. I only felt the consequences when I wasn't allowed to drink sheep milk anymore"

The 40-year-old pub hostess just says: "It's none of my business. I don't work at the plant and that's why I don't ponder about it!"

A 42-year-old farmer who is making sausages in the backyard with his family isn't very concerned about the plant either: "We drink the water from the well. It doesn't bother me that it is supposed to be dirty. The engineer from the plant said that the reactors are 100% safe. I believe him!"

When asked if he would prefer Bohunice being gone he replied: "You Austrians are rich people with a lot of time. Slovaks are poor and have to work hard and that's why we don't have the possibility to ponder about such things. Maybe I would fight against the plant but only if I had a lot of money. But probably there is no point anyway."

Aladßr Betßk supervises the control room of a "V2" reactor. He studied mechanical engineering and has been working at Bohunice since a few years: "I am not afraid that something will happen. The plant is in a good condition and we have well-trained staff. The power plant is very important for Slovakia. It makes us more independent of the Czechs. 80% of the people who live here also work here, they get paid 15% more for the same tasks than at other companies. Czechoslovakia is not doing well. Only the energy industry is stable. People are dead keen on working here because electricity will always be needed."

A 30-year-old man from Kostolany who used to exchange uranium fuel rods at the Bohunice plant for two years left nevertheless: "I couldn't stand the working conditions. When we were hired we had to sign a written promise that we were not allowed to talk about anything that happens at the plant. I work in public transport now. Maybe I make less money but at least I can work with a clean conscience".

< Read part 12 of the series: Electricity from the socket

© A report by Tobias Micke (01-05-91) – Contact