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2020.12.01 13:09

Belarusian NGO reports incident at Astravyets nuclear plant

updated
Vaida Kalinkaitė-Matuliauskienė, LRT.lt2020.12.01 13:09

Ecohome, a prominent environmental NGO in Belarus, has reported that another incident took place at the country’s Astravyets nuclear plant located some 50 kilometres from Vilnius.

UPDATE: Belarus admits need to ‘correct operations’ at nuclear plant after reported incident

According to Ecohome (Ekodom), the cooling system of the first reactor was damaged. No Belarusian media or official institution has so far issued any comments regarding the alleged incident.

“Due to an unopened valve, when pumping out the [cooling liquid] at the end of the tests, the tank of the emergency cooling system of the first reactor was damaged,” Ecohome said in a statement on November 30.

“The tank had most likely imploded. It requires replacement, but since replacing the tank would amount to admitting an incident, they will try to fix it instead. Thus, we have a ‘hot’ reactor with an abnormally functioning (at best) backup emergency cooling system,” it said.

Ecohome said they started receiving information about an incident at the plant from several unrelated sources in September and October.

The non-governmental organisation asked the Belarusian authorities for more details, but was informed by them on October 13 that no incidents had been recorded at the plant.

Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry told LRT.lt that appropriate authorities have turned to Belarus for more information. No increase of radiation was detected in Lithuania.

Meanwhile, Lithuania’s electricity network operator Litgrid told LRT.lt that Belarusian authorities do not normally inform them about incidents. Fluctuations in power production are also registered fairly often, as the plant is still undergoing testing, according to Litgrid.

Most recently, the plant stopped supplying electricity on November 29 at 20:52, Litgrid told LRT.lt. It resumed operations on November 30 at 10:28, but ceased generating electricity again on the same day at 14:59.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the plant is not supplying electricity to the power grid, according to Litgrid.

Lithuania, along with Estonia and Latvia, shares a power grid with Belarus which is controlled from Moscow. The Baltic states are due to unplug from the grid and synchronise with the European network by 2025.

In early November, the Astravyets NPP suffered an incident just days after launch, when a transformer exploded outside the reactor. The plant resumed operations on November 19.

Read more: Incident reported at Belarus nuclear plant days after launch

And although the previous incident reported at the plant was only technical, the one reported by Ecohome would be directly associated with the “nuclear part of the plant”, Arvydas Sekmokas, a Lithuanian energy expert, told LRT.lt.

“This incident is related to the threat posed by the Astravyets NPP as a nuclear object,” he said.

In May this year, Lithuania and Belarus signed a bilateral accident notification agreement. However, the unreported incidents show that the deal is not working, said Sekmokas.

Lithuania’s State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate (VATESI) previously told LRT.lt that the agreement did not require the parties to inform each other about non-nuclear incidents.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear if the accident reported by Ecohome took place at all, as no other sources have confirmed it, said Sekmokas.

But "if this incident did take place, the important question is why [Lithuania’s] institutions were not informed and the information was hidden”, said Tomas Janeliūnas from Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science (TSPMI).

If Belarusian authorities did conceal information about the incident, “this would be the worst sign” that official information coming from Minsk cannot be trusted, added Janeliūnas.

Lithuania has been one of the most ardent critics of the plant built by the Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom and funded by a loan from the Kremlin.

Vilnius maintains that the plant is unsafe, recommendations of the European Union’s stress tests have not been implemented, and it fails to meet international safety standards. Minsk denies all allegations.

Read more: LRT English Newsletter: Belarus goes nuclear, Lithuania goes ballistic

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