On October 10, Lithuania’s border guards reported steam rising from one of the chimneys at the Belarusian nuclear plant, located some 30 kilometres from the Lithuanian border.
“The plant is being launched, [we will] need to get used to the steam,” Michailas Demčenko from Lithuania’s State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate (VATESI) told BNS.
According to VATESI, there has been no increase in radiation in Lithuania.
On October 12, the Belarusian Energy Ministry said that a controlled fission chain reaction was launched in the first reactor, according to the Belarusian state news agency BelTa.
“The unit was brought to minimum control power (MCP),” according to the ministry, which added that various tests will be conducted in the future.
Lithuania’s VATESI has previously said that safety concerns at the Astravyets NPP remain unaddressed. Belarus is also yet to implement the EU stress test recommendations.
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Launch postponed again to 2022
Meanwhile, Belarus says it has postponed the full launch of the first reactor at its Astravyets nuclear power plant by two years to 2022, according Radio Free Europe.
The plant was due to become operational in autumn 2018, but has encountered a string of successive delays. Minsk has not provided a reason for the continuing postponements.
The plant was built by the Russian state firm Rosatom and financed by Moscow with a loan of 10 billion US dollars.
Located just 50 kilometres from Vilnius, the plant has been vehemently opposed by Lithuania which says it violates safety and environmental rules. Minsk rejects all accusations.
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are moving to a full decoupling from their Soviet-era common power system by 2025, while Vilnius has been seeking a Baltic boycott of Belarusian energy imports once the plant becomes operational.
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The loading of fuel into the 1.2 gigawatt water-water energetic reactor (VVER) at the plant began in August.
Construction of a second reactor is scheduled for completion in 2022 and will double the plant's capacity to 2.4 gigawatts.