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2019.05.06 19:00

Lithuanian PM splits government opinion over Belarus nuclear plant

LRT.lt 2019.05.06 19:00

Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis has accepted Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Rumas’ offer to jointly monitor radiation around the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant. However, his ministers seem to have a different take, while critics argue that Lithuania would be taking on responsibility for the plant’s safety without holding any controls.

Skvernelis has said he is ready to send Lithuania’s Energy Minister Žygimantas Vaičiūnas to Minsk for negotiations. However, the Lithuanian Ministry of Energy spokesperson has told LRT that no such meeting is currently planned.

Meanwhile on Friday, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius and Energy Minister Vaičiūnas signed a joint letter to the European Commission, asking for leadership in preparing a comprehensive plan of action to deal with the nuclear plant in the EU’s back yard.

According to political scientist, Professor Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, the prime minister, who is also a presidential candidate, “is improvising on his own” during the height of Lithuania’s presidential elections.

PM Skvernelis says that, despite Belarus refusing his offer to convert the nuclear plant into a gas-powered facility, he thinks the counter-offer is agreeable.

“We will simply have an opportunity to monitor in real-time what’s happening in that power plant”, including “radiation and any possible accident,” says Skvernelis.

Lithuania’s nuclear safety inspectorate has tried unsuccessfully to establish direct contact with the Belarusian counterpart since 2014, “to find out as quickly as possible what’s happening there so we could warn our people,” says the head of State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate (VATESI), Michailas Demčenko.

By agreeing a joint-monitoring system, Lithuania would be taking on the responsibility for timely information regarding any nuclear incidents in Belarus, says head of department at Lithuania’s Environment Protection Agency.

“It would make sense, if it would be a joint Belarus and EU system,” which would supply “data to all countries including Lithuania and Belarus,” he says.

Monitoring issue is extremely important for Vilnius’ residents – radiation would take just 45 minutes to reach the Lithuanian capital in case of a nuclear accident.

According to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards, nuclear plants need to have a ring of monitoring stations around it. There are currently plans to establish such a system around Astravyets, with EU pledging €14.5m for the project.

Fierce critic of PM Skvernelis, former Lithuanian Energy Minister Arvydas Sekmokas says that monitoring will not make the nuclear plant safe.

“Nuclear safety principles and international conventions are already broken,” he says, “and no monitoring system can resolve the [safety] breaches”.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė has called the prime minister’s previous offer to Belarus anti-constitutional; she is yet to issue a comment regarding the current developments.

Lithuania's authorities say the Astravyets plant under construction 50 kilometers from Vilnius fails to meet international safety standards, after suffering numerous construction accidents; Minsk denies the allegations.