WARSAW, SEPT. 5 -- The Polish government has canceled construction of a controversial nuclear power station near the northern port of Gdansk and recommended delaying any further development of nuclear energy until at least the end of the century.
Tuesday night's decision was a victory for Poland's fledgling environmental movement, which had argued that the half-completed Zarnowiec plant was unsafe, hugely expensive and would not make a significant contribution to Poland's energy needs. Intense public opposition to nuclear power already had scuttled plans for construction of a second nuclear power plant in western Poland.
The decision came as new democratic governments across Eastern and Central Europe reassess ambitious nuclear-power construction programs begun by Communist regimes. Those nuclear programs were heavily reliant on Soviet nuclear technology now regarded as unsafe.
In Czechoslovakia, for example, construction on the Temelin nuclear-power plant has been halted because of environmentalists' concerns, and the government has agreed to shut down a second Soviet-designed plant near the Austrian border if West German inspectors deem it unsafe.
Last month, the 12-nation European Community and the Soviet Union announced the formation of a joint nuclear-safety program that could result in the scrapping or radical upgrading of as many as 25 Soviet power stations.
The Polish cabinet made its decision to dismantle Zarnowiec after noting that no foreign company was willing to complete the project and provide top-quality safety controls.
The ministers noted that it would cost more to complete the plant than it would to build a conventional coal-fired power station. The government newspaper said the plant already had cost over $1 billion. Critics contended that, if the Zarnowiec plant were completed, its life span would not have been more than 30 years.
Public opposition to the Zarnowiec plant had been building for several years and intensified after the 1986 fire and explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Ukraine. Earlier this year, the Polish parliament and government commissioned several groups to study the Zarnowiec plant, and most concluded that it should not be completed. Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki suspended work at the site last year.
But the decision also leaves open the question of how Poland will meet its burgeoning energy needs and break its dependence on heavily polluting brown coal. That question has become more urgent throughout the region in the past six months as the Soviet Union has cut oil deliveries to its former East European satellites.