Can an endangered salamander alter plans for a nuclear waste facility?

Locals in the municipality of Lubenec, opposed to the possible siting of a nuclear waste storage facility in the area, have gained a new argument in their favour: the protection of an endangered salamander in the vicinity. The species S. salamandra was only recently spotted in the area again, and environmentalists and inhabitants are saying the need to protect the slippery fellow should see Lubenec struck off the ‘possible locations’ list.

Fire salamander, photo: Miloš TurekFire salamander, photo: Miloš Turek It isn’t easy for the fire salamander thought to have disappeared for good from the West Bohemian area of Lubenec back when local streams and rivers were polluted. The amphibian, however, is back and was caught on video in the Čertovka stream by a local man who showed the exact spot to Czech TV:

“He was swimming. I filmed him just over there. He went over and then disappeared by those rocks.”

The sighting of the fire salamander has provided new lifeblood for local residents and activists opposed to testing in the area for an underground nuclear waste site. For years, Lubenec has figured on a list of seven potential locations across the Czech Republic; now, opponents of the plan hope they can persuade the Environment Ministry to see things differently. But they have not been successful so far.

Although ecologists warned that other protected fauna and flora in the area could also be impacted by the project and some geologists warned the granite massif into which the site would be bored is not in a geologically stable area, nor large enough in size, they have not received the answer they wanted. The ministry has so far issued a statement saying that matters of wildlife and ecological impact had been taken into consideration – taking the view that testing in the area would not have any ill effects.

Residents who live only dozens of metres from where tests would be conducted – and the site possibly chosen – are, not surprisingly, apprehensive, telling Czech TV they couldn’t imagine what living in the area under far different circumstances would be like.

Temelín nuclear power plant, photo: Filip JandourekTemelín nuclear power plant, photo: Filip Jandourek “If we were to see hundreds of trucks a day coming in and out over the next 20 years, I can’t imagine…”

Beyond the Environment Ministry, activists have taken their grievances to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, passing on a petition to minister Jan Mládek. Will they gain traction?

So far, Lubenec remains on the list. Regardless of a referendum in which locals voted against testing for the suitability of a waste site, the results were apparently ignored. The body in charge, the Radioactive Waste Repository Authority, has asked for new official approval of testing at all seven sites, including Lubenec, to be able to determine the final spot within the next 10 years.