22 November 2013

Concrete Poured at First Nuclear Power Plant in Belarus

On 5 November 2013, the first safety-related concrete has been poured for the foundation slab of the Ostrovets reactor unit 1 in Belarus, in what is the official start of construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant. Belarus, then a Soviet republic, was heavily impacted by the Chernobyl accident in 1986. As reported in WNISR, two VVERNPP-2006” type reactors and designed by AtomEnergoProekt of Russia are to be built at the site, each with 1170 MW capacity. The nuclear project is financed under a Russian export credit agreement between the Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB) and Belarusian commercial bank Belvnesheconombank signed in February 2012. It is now expected that the reactors will be completed in 2018 and 2020.

Justified on the basis of diversifying Belarus energy supply and reducing dependence on Russian imports, questions have been raised on the long term financial implications of a project dependent on a US$ 10 billion credit from Russia.

On 29 October the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry called on Belarus not to proceed with construction of Ostrovets which is located 50 km from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. In June 2011 the government of Lithuania filed a complaint under the United Nations Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) that stated Belarus was in non compliance with the terms of the Convention. In March 2013 the Convention Committee issued its ruling that upheld a number of Lithuania’s complaints, including article 6, paragraphs 1 and 2, of the Convention, in regard to the decision on the location of the plant. Lithuania has stated that the environmental impact assessment process for Ostrovets has not been completed, as well as remaining unresolved questions over the the impact on the population of Vilnius and the status of seismic studies.

On 5 November, it was reported that the European Commissioner for Energy, Gunther Oettinger, while visiting Lithuania, made a commitment to support Lithuania over its concerns with the Ostrovets nuclear plant.