27th Jan 2021

Lithuania warns EU leaders on Belarus nuclear incidents

  • Lithuania shut down its own nuclear power station, Ignalina, between 2004 and 2009, due to EU safety concerns (Photo: Peter Teffer)

There were three incidents of equipment failure at Belarus' new atomic power station since it began making electricity in November, Lithuania has warned.

The plant was halted on 8 November, five days after it started work, due to the breakdown of four voltage transformers, Lithuania said in a short memo circulated ahead of Thursday's (10 December) summit, seen by EUobserver.

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Its cooling system then malfunctioned on 30 November, although Belarus failed to give detailed information.

And on 1 December, its steam noise-absorbers needed to be fixed.

The plant was switched on without implementing the vast majority of EU or International Atomic Energy Agency recommendations, Lithuania noted.

The "unsafe" facility "might cause significant risks to the EU", it warned.

"Hasty commissioning and growing incidents indicate a real risk, which is amplified by limited management and competence abilities," it added.

And while there was little the EU could do at this stage, Lithuania also said, Europe could put a dampener on the project by refusing to buy its electrical output.

The EU should "foresee prevention of access of electricity from third countries' nuclear facilities, which do not comply with the highest safety standards, [and which] undermine international rules and conventions," Lithuania said.

The talk of nuclear safety risks in Belarus brings back memories of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1998, which scattered radioactive material as far west as Ireland and beyond.

To make matters worse, the new plant was built in one of Europe's few earthquake zones.

And the stakes for Vilnius could not be higher, because the nuclear facility in Ostrovets, on the Lithuania-Belarus border, is just 50km from the Lithuanian capital and draws water from the same river, the Villa, that flows through Vilnius city centre.

Lithuania has been complaining about what it called the "geopolitical project" for years, saying it was designed to stop EU firms in the neighbourhood from diversifying energy supplies, by flooding the market with cheap electricity.

Its latest outcry was aimed at seeing an EU pushback inscribed in the summit conclusions.

It comes in the context of EU revulsion at Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

But it also comes amid a packed summit agenda, Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda noted.

"While the EU is focused on Green Deal, climate goals, MFF [multi-annual financial framework], and Brexit, Lukashenko's regime poses a real threat to the people of Belarus and the whole EU by hastily launching the unsafe Ostrovets NPP [nuclear power plant]," Nauseda said.

"Yes, the EU cannot force Belarus to stop the construction and re-launching" of the facility, he added.

"However, we expect from the EU to do everything to ensure nuclear safety in its immediate neighbourhood," he said, referring to the mooted EU ban on electricity buying.

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