Despite heated disputes with Lithuania, the Belarusian authorities continue to speed up its NPP project. According to the plans, one of the two energy blocks will start working by the end of 2019.
The Belarus-Russia construction of a nuclear power plant in Astravets has almost come to the working stage. The Belarusian NPP which is partly financed by the Russian company Rosatom might start functioning by the end of the year. The first block of the Belarusian NPP is 97% ready, the Rosatom CEO Aleksey Likhachev said on September, 24. The second block may start operating in 2020. The power of the NPP’s two reactors is reported to be equal to 2,400 MW; the would-be nuclear waste will be stored in Belarus.
Such a perspective arouses strong criticism from one of Belarus’ neighbours. Several years of discussions about building the NPP near the Lithuanian border have not resulted in any concessions from the Belarusian side.
Moreover, the number of accidents during the construction at the NPP could not but attract Lithuania’s attention: Vilnius appealed to Belarus requesting investigation and clarification of the accidents and incidents. In September, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius demanded Belarus regularly provided access to environmental monitoring of the Belarusian NPP. In connection to launching its first energy block, Lithuania is set to conduct national exercises modelling the situation of the NPP accident on October, 1-4.
Not surprisingly, the costs of the project have not been widely reported. The development of nuclear energy is declared by the Belarusian government as one of the strategic priorities that will be implemented together with Russia. Russia is known to have poured around $10 bn into the Belarusian nuclear power plant in Astravets. In line with the new integration project, the debt of Belarus to Russia within the NPP projects makes the ties of the countries closer in the energy field.
According to Deputy Energy Minister Mikhail Mikhadzyuk, the roadmap on energy is one of the 31 road maps proposed as part of the integration plan of Russia and Belarus, reform.by reports.
But it is still unclear which countries Belarus is going to sell energy to. Lithuania reiterates that it will avoid purchasing electricity from the Astravets NPP. In early September, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz confirmed that Poland would also restrain itself from it.
In mid August, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda expressed concern over Latvia’s allegedly opting for buying electricity from the would-be NPP. However, Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš stated that the country did not take such decision. However, the position towards the Belarusian NPP might change due to the Russia’s indirect influence on some groups of the Latvian political elite, Lithuanian political analyst Marius Laurinavicius told Belsat.
At the same time, the awareness of ecological aftermaths of the NPP in Belarus remains rather low. As an example, a short public opinion poll conducted in the city of Hrodna shows that people lack knowledge of potential risks, but they are aware of its benefits. Only about 2,000 people have signed the petition against the construction of the NPP this month.
As the Belarusian authorities are sensitive to criticism both from abroad and within the country, anti-nuke activists have come under pressure from the security services.
Despite the dire consequenses of the Chernobyl disaster in Belarus, its authorities have been reluctant to admit the likely hazards of a nuclear power plant. The Belarusian side that has been intensively developing the Russia-backed nuclear project seems to have finally turned a blind eye to a number of wake up-calls, results of environmental assessment and warnings from local and foreign eco-activists.
Alesia Rudnik, belsat.eu