Lithuania says official, decisive “no” to Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant

Publish date: May 7, 2010

MOSCOW – Lithuania expressed its official disapproval of a plan pushed aggressively by the neighbouring Belarus to build a nuclear power plant (NPP) in the Belarusian town of Ostrovets, just 55 kilometres away from the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. The former Soviet republic’s concerns were stated in an official note that was prepared by the Ministry of Environment and will be extended to Minsk, said the Lithuanian news agency

Lithuania’s note of concern states, in particular, that Minsk has yet to deliver a comprehensive environmental impact evaluation report on the future NPP and asks that Belarusian officials hold a new hearing in Lithuania where such information may be made available to the public. Belarus, however, is not obligated to take Lithuania’s opinion into account, reported.

“Having reviewed the environmental impact evaluation report, we do not approve of the construction of an NPP at the Ostrovets site on grounds detailed in our comments,” said the official document. “The evaluation is insufficient as the report has been limited to just the analysis of one site only. This contradicts regulations of the Espoo Convention which require that information on alternative sites be presented as well.”

Both Lithuania and Belarus, two neighbouring nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union, are parties to the 1991 Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context – or the Espoo Convention, called so because it was signed in the Finnish town of Espoo. Since the new NPP is projected to be built just 23 kilometres off the Belarusian-Lithuanian border, any harmful potential impact it may have will also affect the environment and well-being of the population of Lithuania. A bilateral discussion of the issue is thus a requisite procedure.

The Lithuanian environment ministry’s position note also sets forth critical comments with regard to the chosen site, the incomplete environmental impact report, the insufficiently detailed description of the future reactor, and the as yet to be established procedure for handling the resulting radioactive waste, among other issues.

The authors reiterate that, in accordance with the Espoo Convention, Belarus is required to provide data on alternative suitable sites for the NPP, something the environmental impact report failed to do.

Barring the absence of such sites, there is no other reason that would support the specific choice of Ostrovets as the future NPP location, and there is not enough rationale provided to justify the choice of the reactor design, either.
The reactor chosen for the Ostrovets NPP is an experimental Russian design called VVER-1200  and touted by the Russian nuclear authority Rosatom and Atomstroiexport, a Rosatom structure which is in charge of intergovernmental cooperation agreements and which hopes to land the Belarusian NPP contract.

“As it is stated [in the environmental impact report], the reactor’s advantage is that its main equipment and protection systems have been tested on two Chinese reactors and that it will be possible to return spent nuclear fuel back to Russia for long-term storage. Other arguments are unclear,” the environment ministry’s note said.

The Lithuanians also say that, according to documents provided, the Ostrovets NPP will only be able to withstand the impact of a light aircraft.
“This means that it will not be protected against the potential crash impact of a passenger line aircraft. More and more world countries take the possibility of acts of terror into account and adopt the requirement that new NPPs be able to withstand impact damage from large passenger aircraft,” the note continued. “Lithuania will also set forth this requirement. Lithuania considers it unacceptable that a reactor will be built that does not meet this requirement.”

Lithuania is also worried about the NPP’s potential detriment to the Neris – a river that rises in Belarus, where it is called Vilija, and flows through Lithuania’s large cities of Vilnius and Kaunas, at which point it becomes a tributary of the Neman River. The Neris will be used to draw water to cool the future NPP’s reactors and as the dumpsite for the resulting wastewaters.

“Based on the information provided on the quantity of water that will be needed for reactor cooling, we cannot verify the reliability of the data and the validity of the conclusions made that there will be no negative impact on the river Neris and that its waters’ quantitative and qualitative indicators will not suffer,” the note said.

The environment ministry also cites estimates made by the Lithuanian Physics Institute which state that the Lithuanian capital will have to be subjected to forced evacuation should a serious accident occur at the projected Belarusian site.