Lithuania was on Thursday officially notified about the delivery of nuclear fuel to the Astravyets nuclear power plant in Belarus, Lithuania's State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate (VATESI) reported.
“On August 6, VATESI was notified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the delivery of non-used nuclear fuel assemblies to the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant's 1st energy block has been started and they plan to start loading them into the reactor,” the statement reads.
VATESI said it also received a notification from the Belarusian Ministry of Emergency Situations with which Lithuania has an exchange of information agreement.
Loading of nuclear fuel assemblies is a key stage for the launch of the nuclear facility's first block, VATESI said. This step will be followed by the reactor's physical, energy and pilot industrial use.
According to VATESI, questions about the nuclear plant's environmental and nuclear safety raised by Lithuania remain unanswered.
Moreover, recommendations presented by international and IAEA experts following stress-tests have not been implemented either, according to the agency, especially on extreme seismic events and emergency prevention. This, VATESI says, is unacceptable.
Calls on IAEA to react
Lithuania's Energy Minister Žygimantas Vaičiūnas has urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to take a responsible stance on Belarus' “politically-driven” push to launch the Astravyets nuclear power plant.
“Nuclear safety is the IAEA's top priority; therefore, it must ensure that there is no doubt about the safety of the Astravyets NPP and that we have answers to the questions that remain unanswered,” Vaičiūnas said in a press release after Thursday’s conversation with Rafael Grossi, the agency's director-general.
“Continuous and active steps to ensure nuclear safety are a matter of the IAEA’s responsibility to Lithuania and the entire region,” he said.
In his conversation with Grossi, Vaičiūnas noted that Belarus had changed the nuclear power plant's licensing process on July 30, allowing it to start the loading of nuclear fuel into the first reactor.
“This raises the question of whether the Belarusian regulator is not under political pressure, as the Convention on Nuclear Safety clearly states that the regulator's independence in decision-making must be ensured,” the minister said.
Lithuania has not yet received any official information and answers to its questions about the plant's nuclear safety and reserves, and other issues, according to Vaičiūnas.
In early July, the energy ministry turned to the IAEA over the Belarusian energy system's readiness for the Astravyets launch.
According to Vaičiūnas, Lithuania has so far received no confirmation that Belarus has the necessary reserves to ensure the stability of the system in case the Astravyets plant goes offline.
The IAEA should insist that Belarus does not start operating the nuclear power plant until its energy system is fully prepared, according to the press release.