Thursday

21st Sep 2017

Investigation

Earthquake zone on EU border to host Belarus nuclear plant

  • Ignalina: the region saw a 7.0 quake just over 100 years ago (Photo: wikipedia)

The drive toward the site of Belarus' future nuclear power plant goes through tall pine and white birch trees. The woods here, and in nearby Bialowieza, are among Europe's last primordial forests.

Located near the Lithuanian frontier, the nuclear facility will be just 50 kilometres away from Vilnius. The first of its two reactors is to go online in 2017. The second in 2018.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"The decision to build the station was entirely political ... It makes no sense to build it here. It's a fault line and the closest water source is 10 kilometres away," a Belarusian geologist - who does not want to reveal his name and who lost his job last year because a close relative spoke out against President Alexander Lukashenko - told this website.

Another, better-suited, location had been identified in the east of the country, he noted. But Russia pushed for the Lithuania-border site to "test" the Europeans.

The new plant will use water from the Vilia river - which is called Neris in Lithuania, and which hugs the edge of Vilnius' historic city centre.

Meanwhile, the Geological Survey of Lithuania says around 40 earthquakes of significant size have struck the region since the 17th century.

A tremor in 2004 registered 5.3 on the Richter scale in Vilnius. "The area selected for the new [Belarus facility] experienced the strongest earthquake ... in the history of Belarus," the Lithuanian foreign ministry told EUobsever by email. The 7.0 quake struck in 1909.

Lithuania spent two years trying to get Belarus to build the plant further away and to use a different water source - a line in Minsk's 3,500-plus-page-long environmental impact assessment reportedly says radioactive and chemical contamination of the Vilia/Neris will be "within allowable limits."

It failed, and construction began in 2011.

Lithuania has filed a complaint with the Swiss-based United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, while its foreign minister, Audronius Azubalis, has warned that the project is a threat to national security which will "cloud" bilateral relations.

His tough talk has not impacted Belarus-Lithuania trade, however.

Lithuania is a major transit point for Belarusian potash. "The nuclear power plant issue has no effect on trade relations. Around one third of Lithuania's port capacity is dedicated to Belarus potash alone and this is on the rise," Tomas Janeliunas, the editor-in-chief of the Lithuanian Foreign Policy Review journal, told this website in Vilnius.

If Lithuania plays hardball, Belarus can divert the potash to competing ports in Estonia or Latvia. "Ultimately, it would cost Lithuania more than it would Belarus," Janeliunas noted.

Meanwhile, Lithuania undermined its anti-nuclear campaign by opting to build a new reactor at its own (recently decommissioned) Ignalina nuclear plant.

It signed a premilinary contract with Hitachi on 30 March. The reactor is to go online in 2020 and pump wastewater into the Zeimena river, which joins the Vilia/Neris north of Vilnius. The Ignalina area saw a 2.1 quake in 2001.

"I cannot predict the psychology of Lukashenko, but we announced our intentions to build our own new nuclear power plant long before Belarus," Saulius Lapienus, the vice-president of Lithuania's Green party, which is trying to stop the Ignalina new-build, told this website.

Given the huge scale of the Belarusian project - both financially and politically - it is hard to say if anything Lithuania does would make much difference.

Officially promoted as reducing dependence on Russian gas imports, the facility will in fact increase Russia's footprint in the strategically important country. The €7.6 billion plant is being 90-percent-subsidised by Russia and built by Russian firm Atomstroyexport. Belarus is to borrow the remaining €760 million from Russian banks.

When this reporter visited the site in November 2011, the Belarusian geologist cited above turned off the main road, drove up a construction lane, stopped beside a post and stared out of the car window in silence.

The trees he used to walk through on his way to go fishing in the Vilia have been chopped down to make a large field of mud dotted by trucks, bulldozers and cranes.

There are no billboards to say what is going on. All you can see are a few steel girders and the skeleton of one future building.

There is more to see in Ostrovets, a nearby town of 8,000 people, where apartment complexes to house what will be a small army of nuclear plant workers are nearing completion. There is also a new asphalt road and recently-laid railway tracks for bringing supplies.

Ostrovets residents were reluctant to speak to this reporter.

In front of the city hall, an imposing bronze statue of Lenin - now a symbol of Lukashenko's power - overlooks the daily to-and-fro.

Belarus is a large country.

As the crow flies, it is more than 400km from Ostrovets to Narowla, another town of about 8,000 people, which sits on the edge of the "Confiscated/Closed Zone" - a 30km-radius-area around the Chernobyl nuclear plant. It appears on maps as a red stain and will be uninhabitable for over 200 years after the meltdown in 1986.

Lithuania faces funding gap in dismantling Chernobyl-type plant

A precondition for Lithuania's EU membership, the closure of its Chernobyl-type nuclear plant in Ignalina is behind schedule and faces a funding gap of €1.5 billion, Lithuania's energy minister has said. But experts question the way money was spent.

Nuclear stress tests fail EU scrutiny

Twenty-six years to the day after the Chernobyl disaster, the European Commission has said Europe's nuclear stress tests lack essential data.

EU ambassadors trickle back to Minsk

All EU ambassadors are returning to Minsk in a bid to improve deteriorating relations with Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, in power for the past 18 years.

Investigation

The rise of the German alt-right

Ahead of Sunday's German elections, a growing number of anti-establishment, anti-Islam websites have created an echo chamber for the radical right.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan leader decries Spanish government intervention
  2. Hungary set for fresh campaign against public enemy Soros
  3. Iceland's PM leads in polls ahead of October elections
  4. Erdogan demands Iraqi Kurds cancel referendum
  5. Ireland to hold referendum on ownership of water
  6. Report: May to offer €20bn as Brexit bill in Florence speech
  7. Merkel poised to win election despite CDU dip in polls
  8. EU unveils cyber security ideas

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressCommends the German Government for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  2. EU2017EEFour Tax Initiatives to Modernise the EU's Tax System
  3. Dialogue PlatformResponsibility in Practice: Gulen & Islamic Thought
  4. Counter BalanceHuman Rights Concerns Over EIB Loan to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline Project
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina Leads the Global Clean Energy Transition
  6. CES - Silicones EuropeFrom Baking Moulds to Oven Mitts, Silicones Are a Key Ingredient in Kitchens
  7. Martens CentreFor a New Europeanism: How to Put the Motto "Unity in Diversity" Into Practice
  8. Access MBAGet Ahead With an MBA Degree. Top MBA Event in Brussels
  9. Idealist QuarterlyIdealist Quarterly Event: Building Fearless Democracies With Gerald Hensel
  10. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Urges Bigger Global Role for Emerging Economies
  11. EU2017EEAre We Socially Insured in the Future of Work?
  12. European Jewish CongressFrench Authorities to Root Out "Societal Antisemitism" After Jewish Family Assaulted

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Federation of Local Energy CompaniesClean Energy for All? On 10.10 Top-Level Speakers Present the Clean Energy Package
  2. UNICEFUp to Three Quarters of Children Face Abuse & Exploitation on Mediterranean Migration Routes
  3. Swedish EnterprisesEurope Under Challenge; Recipe for a Competitive EU
  4. European Public Health AllianceCall to International Action to Break Deadlock on Chronic Diseases Crisis
  5. CES - Silicones EuropePropelling the construction revolution with silicones
  6. EU2017EEEU 2018 Budget: A Case of Three Paradoxes
  7. ACCAUS 'Dash for Gas' Could Disrupt Global Gas Markets
  8. Swedish Enterprises“No Time to Lose” Film & Debate on How Business & Politics Can Fight Climate Change
  9. European Free AllianceSave The Date!! 26.09 - Coppieters Awards To... Carme Forcadell
  10. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Grave Concern Over Rise in Antisemitism in Poland
  11. EU2017EECybersecurity and the Estonian Presidency
  12. European Free AllianceFemu a Corsica. A Corsican Nationalist Party With a European Dimension