Nuclear Politics

Lithuania / Energy Minister Says Belarusian Nuclear Project ‘Raises Growing Concerns’

By Kamen Kraev, BiznesAlert.pl
24 March 2021

Three Baltic states and the EU itself have expressed concerns about safety at the Russia-backed project
Energy Minister Says Belarusian Nuclear Project ‘Raises Growing Concerns’
Image courtesy Creative Commons / Flickr / Mr.TinDC.
Lithuania does not see a problem with Poland’s proposed nuclear power programme, but has concerns about the Russia-supplied Belarusian nuclear power station under construction near its border in Ostrovets, Lithuanian energy minister Dainius Kreivys told Polish energy portal Biznes Alert.

Mr Kreivys said in the interview: “The Polish nuclear project, which is being developed under European Union regulations, cannot be compared with the Russian project in Belarus, which raises growing concerns.”

He said Lithuania was not consulted over the deployment of the two-unit Belarusian nuclear station and it is in violation of the Espoo Convention, which requires trans-border consultation on nuclear facilities.

Mr Kreivys raised questions about the independent status of the Belarusian nuclear regulator and said that the Belarusian station had failed 27 stress tests with only a handful of issues having been addressed.

There are two 1,109-MW Russian VVER-1200 reactor units at the Belarusian site near the town of Ostrovets, close to the border with Lithuania and about 50 km from the capital Vilnius. Unit 1 has been completed and is in test operation mode, while Unit 2 in in a commissioning testing phase.

Poland wants to build from 6,000 to 9,000 MW of installed nuclear capacity based on Generation III and III+ reactor designs. The potential sites are in northern and central Poland, further from the Lithuanian border.

In early March 2021, The European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (Ensreg) approved a preliminary report on the peer review of the Belarusian nuclear power station

The report reviewed the measures implemented by Belarus with regard to seven priority issues and related recommendations from a 2018 Ensreg stress test report. The preliminary report concludes that progress has been made in implementing all recommendations related to the seven issues.

A second phase of the report will cover remaining recommendations and will include another Ensreg visit to Belarus as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic situation has improved.

Background: EU And Baltic States Cite Safety Concerns

Three Baltic States and EU members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have expressed concerns, as has the EU itself, about safety at the Belarusian nuclear power station.

Russia’s state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, which is building the facility, has rejected claims the facility is unsafe, saying the design conforms to the highest international standards.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania decided in August 2020 that commercial exchanges with electricity from Belarus will be stopped as soon as the Belarusian facility becomes operational.

Commercial exchanges with Belarus effectively stopped on 3 November last year when the first unit was connected to the grid. Unit 1 is scheduled to begin full commercial operation in the coming months with Unit 2 following in the firt half of 2022.

But this has not stopped electricity from the facility entering the EU because the Baltic countries are still connected to the Russian system – which includes Belarus.

The EU wants to address the problem through the synchronisation process with the EU continental grid, a project for which the commission has committed €1bn.

The European council has also raised the issue of EU measures to prohibit electricity from nuclear power plants from third countries, which do not fulfil EU recognised nuclear safety standards.

The commission is analysing whether obligations under international law on nuclear energy leave scope for measures concerning electricity imports from third countries.

The commission said it is working closely with the Baltic states to explore whether region-specific measures could be put in before synchronisation with the EU grid takes place in 2025. Those measures might include certificates on the origin of electricity imported from third countries or defining a grid use tariff also for import flows.

In January, a European parliament committee backed a resolution (Lithuanian only) regretting the “hasty launch” of the Belarusian nuclear power station and calling for the project to be suspended until all EU safety recommendations have been implemented.

The committee on industry, research and energy expressed its concern about the start of commercial activities at the Belarusian station, despite the “poor quality assurance and control, doubts about the implementation of the recommendations of the EU and other international organisations and the lack of transparency”.

The resolution expressed concern about the location of the Belarusian project 50 km east of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius and near Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

According to the resolution, the project is being implemented “despite protests by Belarusian citizens and non-governmental organisations”. It said there had been a large number of incidents during construction and launch of the facility. The committee called for “early warning systems to be developed in countries adjacent to the power plant”.

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