German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced support for Lithuania over fears about a nuclear power plant being built in Belarus.
After the meeting with Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis in Berlin, the German Chancellor proposed a visit by international inspectors to the construction site to address Lithuania’s concerns. Earlier, the Belarusian side restricted access to the site; there has been a few serious incidents there.
“I consider the Belarusian NPP as a Russian geopolitical project which is hostile to Lithuania. It is an opportunity to blackmail and exert pressure on Lithuania, to prevent its synchronization with the West, Dalia Grybauskaite said on Thursday.
In turn, Saulius Skvernelis asked Angela Merkel for solidarity in the matter of boycotting the Belarusian and other NPPs if the EU would consider them unsafe.
The chancellor is reported to have agreed with Skvernelis’ position that the construction is an important issue not only to Lithuania and Belarus, but also to the whole European Union as well.
“We are in favor of compliance with high technical standards. Because it does not matter whether it comes to direct proximity or not, we know from the time of Chernobyl, that NPPs safety is crucial,” Merkel said following the meeting with Skvernelis.
“We can only advocate for the involvement of international experts who could carefully inspect the construction and study corresponding documents. As the nuclear power is pervasive, the security issues are of vital importance. We will talk to Russia again and again about how it is crucial for us, how it is crucial for Russia and its people,” she added.
Minsk reiterates that the construction site is open to international inspectors. But Vilnius says that most foreign visits to Astravets are sightseeing tours. A month ago, IAEA working group was allowed to carry out a deliberate inspection there, but its mandate was limited. Moreover, experts believe that the NPP potential threats go beyond the construction site.
Why do the Belarusian authorities turn down international help in avoiding these threats? Belsat TV investigation showed that Minsk does have something to hide. Contrary to the Belarusian legislation which binds all NPP contractors over to have the fisrt category certification, Budaunik company which is responsible for fire safety system at the Astravets NPP has only the second category. Russia’s company Sesame that was installing the first reactor vessel without having a license. And the reactor vessel, according to the website of its manufacturer, was the first to have been made at the plant since Soviet times.
Lithuania is the main critic of the idea of the Belarusian nuclear power plant, which is only 20 km from the border and 50 km from Vilnius. Minsk rejects Lithuania’s claims, arguing that nuclear power plants will have high safety standards. Vilnius asked Brussels for involvement of the European Union in the matter.
The NPP first power-generating unit is scheduled for commissioning in 2018, the second one – in 2020. The construction of two nuclear reactors is provided in the agreement reached by Belarus and Russia, the reactors being supplied by Atomstroyexport, Russia. The project faced opposition at home and abroad on both safety and political grounds.