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2019.04.30 11:24

Belarus rejects Lithuanian PM's offer to convert its nuclear plant

BNS, LRT.lt 2019.04.30 11:24

Belarus has rejected the Lithuanian prime minister's suggestion to convert its nuclear power plant in Astravyets, close to the Lithuanian border, into a gas-powered facility.

In a letter written on April 22, Prime Minister Syarhey Rumas of Belarus says that the offer is not reasonable.

Lithuania has been protesting the soon-to-be-completed nuclear power plant, saying its proximity to the Lithuanian border and the country's capital city, Vilnius, makes it a security hazard. Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis has suggested that the Astravyets plant be converted into a gas-powered facility that could be supplied with gas via the Klaipėda LNG terminal and a planned gas link between Lithuania and Poland.

Skvernelis' critics said the proposal was unrealistic either technically or politically and was part of his presidential campaign more than anything else.

“As to your proposition laid out in the March 7 letter about constructing a gas power plant instead of a nuclear plant, I would like to inform you that the construction project of the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant is in its final stage. Converting it into a plant powered by natural gas is not technically and economically feasible,” reads Rumas' letter.

According to the letter, one of the goals of the Astravyets project is to diversify Belarus' energy balance in order to reduce its dependence on gas imports. Rumas claims that the nuclear facility will help the country, which now gets 95 percent of its electricity from gas-fueled power plants, to lower its gas consumption by around 5 billion cubic meters annually and to considerably cut the share of gas in electricity generation and greenhouse gas emissions.

“I cannot agree with the opinion expressed in your letter that the parties to the Espoo Convention recognized that the selection of the Astravyets NPP site was inappropriate and that the stress tests conducted under the auspices of the European Commission showed that it was not safe,” Belarus' prime minister insists. 

“On the contrary, European specialists recognised the results of the stress tests as positive and recommended further possible measures for enhancing nuclear safety at the plant.” 

The Belarusian prime minister has also invited the Lithuanian government to reopen dialogue, to set up a joint task force to analyse the operations of the Astravyets plant and the facilities linked to the decommissioning of Lithuania's defunct nuclear power plant in Ignalina. Belarus also suggests a joint radiation monitoring system.

In a meeting in Geneva in early February, the parties to the Espoo Convention concluded that the choice of site to build the Astravyets plant, so close to the Lithuanian border, violated the convention.

The Lithuanian State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate (VATESI) said last July that the EU peer review report of Belarus' stress tests had revealed a considerable number of deficiencies in the Astravyets project.

The tests were conducted by Atomproekt, a subsidiary of Russia's Rosatom, the Astravyets plant's main contractor, in 2016.

Belarus has recently pushed back the launch date of the Astravyets plant's first reactor until next autumn. Minsk earlier planned to put it online in May or June 2019.

Lithuanian authorities say the Astravyets plant under construction just 50 kilometers from Vilnius fails to meet international safety standards, an allegation that Minsk denies.

Back in June 2017, the Lithuanian parliament passed a law declaring the Astravyets plant a threat to national security, environment and public health. The government later approved an action plan for blocking electricity imports from the plant.

In an effort to hamper the project, Lithuania plans to block electricity imports from Astravyets. However, other European countries have not backed Vilnius' proposal for a broader boycott.