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2021.03.25 11:11

Belarus’ radiation monitoring goes dark after alleged incident

updated
LRT.lt2021.03.25 11:11

After an alleged incident at the Belarusian nuclear plant earlier in March, radiation monitoring stations across the country went dark, Lithuanian officials said.

“In the middle of the day [on March 7], those stations were disconnected from the network,” Julius Žiliukas, head of Lithuania’s Radiology Security Centre, previously told LRT TV.

On March 7, Belarusian Telegram channels reported a breakdown of the cooling system at the Astravyets nuclear plant located some 50 kilometres from Vilnius. Lithuanian officials then turned to their Belarusian counterparts for information.

Read more: Suspected incident reported at Belarus NPP, no change in radiation in Lithuania

Meanwhile, the publicly accessible radiation monitoring data in Belarus disappeared for several hours.

“We can’t say what the problem was, we don’t know, but the stations were switched back on later and showed a normal radiation background as always,” said Žiliukas. No such cases had happened before.

The wind was blowing to the east, therefore, no spike in radiation was recorded in Lithuania.

According to Žiliukas, photos on social media appeared of people measuring increased radiation levels themselves, but there was no official data.

Belarus later denied that an incident had taken place and told the Lithunaian State Nuclear Energy Inspectorate (VATESI) that the radiation remained within normal limits.

Meanwhile, VATESI has repeatedly called on the Belarusian Ministry of Emergency Situations to provide information on the possible release of radiation in the event of a severe nuclear accident.

“The delay by Belarus to provide the requested information could be considered a failure of Belarus to fulfill its obligations under the Convention on Nuclear Safety,” Michail Demcenko, head of VATESI, said in a press release on Wednesday.

Several other incidents had already taken place after the first reactor was launched in November last year. In all cases, Belarusian authorities either denied the information or admitted that something unplanned had happened only after non-government organisations and activists made the information public.

Lithuania maintains that the nuclear plant financed by the Kremlin and built by the Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom is unsafe and was built in breach of international safety standards. Minsk denies all allegations.

In a response sent to LRT.lt, Rosatom said that the plant was granted a positive assessment by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group's (ENSREG) peer-review. Rosatom also said that the plant was financed by an “intergovernmental loan” from Russia to Belarus.

Lithuanian officials, however, maintain that the stress tests' recommendations to tackle safety issues are yet to be implemented and breaches of international treaties, including the UN’s Espoo and Aarhus conventions, remain unaddressed.

Read more: Rosatom on Lithuania's doorstep: a Russian Trojan horse?