VIENNA, JAN. 29 -- Concerned about health risks posed by nuclear power plants ringing its territory, Austria offered today to provide free electricity to neighboring Czechoslovakia for the foreseeable future as an inducement for Prague to shut down two Soviet-designed reactors just 35 miles from their shared border.
The offer, made by Chancellor Franz Vranitsky at a meeting with Czechoslovak Premier Marian Calfa, comes on the heels of a finding by Austrian experts that the Jaslovske Bohunice plant in southern Slovakia could touch off a Chernobyl-like disaster, and the recent announcement here that Austria will begin nationwide distribution of potassium iodide tablets to combat the effects of thyroid radiation poisoning.
The tablets are to be made available by Thursday to pharmacies throughout the country, and all children, pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers are to receive them without charge.
A Health Ministry spokesman denied that distribution of the tablets was linked to conditions at any nuclear plant in particular, saying only that Austria had opted to become the first European country to implement precautionary guidelines established by the World Health Organization. Czechoslovak officials have since announced that they would follow suit and distribute similar pills.
The Austrian report on conditions at Bohunice said that two of four reactors there -- in operation for more than a decade -- lack emergency cooling systems and protective enclosures to prevent the accidental escape of radiation. Welded joints at the plant were also found to be brittle, and fire protection was deemed inadequate.
A fire at the Bohunice plant on Jan. 15 and another six days later at Czechoslovakia's other operating nuclear plant, near Brno, provoked widespread alarm here, although Czechoslovak officials said there were no injuries and no radiation escape in either incident.
But officials here say that Austria -- which official figures indicate was subjected to the highest per capita radiation dosage of any West European country after the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl, does not want to stop with closure of Jaslovske Bohunice, but also hopes to persuade neighboring Hungary and Yugoslavia to turn off their Soviet-designed reactors.
"We are surrounded by 41 atomic power plants," Austrian Environment Minister Marilies Flemming said in an interview. "We cannot close them all . . . but there is a danger of great proportions that must be stopped. It is not only important for Austria, but for all humanity."
Vranitzky also has proposed that the five neighboring states of south-central Europe -- Austria, Italy, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia -- create a nuclear-energy-free zone on their territories. More modern, safety-oriented reactors operate near the Austrian frontier in Germany and Switzerland, but these are regarded as having higher safety standards.
While a 1978 public referendum banned nuclear-power plants in Austria, Czechoslovakia depends on them for more than a quarter of its electricity, and the offer of alternative power has so far met with skepticism among officials there.
Calfa, on the eve of today's meeting with Vranitzky in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, told the Vienna newspaper Die Presse that Austria was waging a public campaign against Czechoslovakia that "had already reached the limits of decency. . . . It is remarkable that Austria should hold itself up as a model for Europe."
His meeting with Vranitzky ended inconclusively after four hours, but Calfa said afterwards that the chancellor's proposals were of interest, and he pledged that a working group would study them. In addition to providing Austrian-generated electricity, Vranitzky suggested the creation of joint water-generated power plants and cooperation on an improved early warning system in case of accident.
Economics Minister Wolfgang Schuessel has estimated that the cost of power deliveries to Czechoslovakia would be about $350 million a year. Austrian electrical plants, 70 percent of which are driven by water power, were capable of filling in for Bohunice "with effort," he said.