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Belarus: Reactor construction licence issued

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The construction of the first nuclear power plant in Belarus can commence following the issuance of a permit from the country's nuclear regulator.

The Department for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (Gosatomnadzor) of the Ministry of Emergencies has issued the State Entity Nuclear Power Plant Construction Directorate (Belarus AEC) with a licence for the construction of the first of two reactors at the Ostrovets site. The main construction contract was awarded to Russia's AtomStroyExport in October 2011, while a US$10 billion turn-key contract was finalised between Belarus and Rosatom in July 2012 for the supply of the two reactors. The 1,200 MWe AES-2006 model VVER pressurized water reactor design has been selected for use at the plant.[1]

Earlier this year, the Lithuanian government made known its deep concerns about Belarus's nuclear power project near Ostroverts. In the past month, diplomatic notes have been sent to Belarus to protest earth-moving and other initial work for the plant. "We have many concerns about safety and information we've asked for hasn't been provided," Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said. A UN committee said in April that Belarus wasn't abiding by the terms of the Espoo Convention on cross-border environmental issues.[2,3]

In late October, the Lithuanian foreign ministry noted that the environmental impact assessment process of the Belarusian nuclear plant under the Espoo Convention has not been completed. "Therefore, the ongoing construction of the NPP and the decision to start installing nuclear equipment are obvious instances of failure to comply with provisions of the Convention."[4]

Belarus Digest reported on 27 August: "Minsk preferred to ignore not only some Lithuania's requests, but also a letter from the EU and provided the [UN] Committee with documents in Russian without a translation into English. At the same time, it manipulated with the EIA texts and held only nominal public hearing with Lithuanian residents. Isolated from many pan-European projects, the Belarusian state clearly has real problems with educating its bureaucrats on new ways of doing government business, particularly in international context."[5]

The thuggishness of the Belarusian state was on full display before and during a Chernobyl day commemoration and demonstration in Minsk earlier this year. Six journalists were arrested during and after the demonstration in a move that drew harsh criticism from Reporters Without Borders (which ranks Belarus a low 157 out of 179 surveyed countries for press freedom).[6]

Influential activists and politicians were targeted. According to Bellona, at least 15 renowned anti-nuclear activists were prevented from taking part in the march, but many more rank and file activists were roughed up by police and brutally dragged from the demonstration.[6]

Vitaly Rymashevsky, a member of the Belorusian Christian Democracy movement, told Bellona that "what happened to many participants and organisers of the march was not detention – it was siege and violent kidnapping of people in the centre of the city. ... This is a sure sign that there is no liberalisation underway in Belarus."[6]

[1] WNN, 28 Oct 2013, 'Construction licence for Ostrovets',
[2] 'Lithuania opposes new reactor in Belarus', 6 Sept 2013, Nuclear Monitor #767,
[3] 'Lithuania concerned about Belarus nuclear plant', 26 Apr 2013, Nuclear Monitor #761,
[4] 'Lithuanian Foreign Ministry Urges Belarus Not to Start Building Nuclear Plant until its Environmental Impact Has Been Assessed', 31 Oct 2013,
[5] Siarhei Bohdan, 27 Aug 2013, 'Belarus and Lithuania: A Tale of Two Nuclear Power Plants', Belarus Digest,
[6] Charles Digges, 2013, 'Thuggish arrests of activists and journalists mar Chernobyl anniversary march in Minsk, Belarus',