EU visit to Belarus nuclear plant called off, deepening safety concerns

belarus npp The Belarusian nuclear power plant. Credit: Rosatom

A visit by European experts to the controversial and newly-operational Belarusian nuclear plant was cancelled after local officials failed to participate in an organizational meeting, Bloomberg reported, citing the European Union energy commissioner.

Belarus’s nuclear energy regulator responded by saying it was willing to hold the meeting at a later date, the agency said.

The plant, located in Ostrovets, was expected to be visited by the European delegates after neighboring Lithuania alleged safety issues while the first reactor was coming into  service in November. During a summit earlier this month, EU leaders emphasized the importance of ensuring safety at the site, Bloomberg said.

Among the alleged safety violations at the plant, Lithuania said in a memo circulated ahead of the summit, was cooling system malfunction that occurred on November 30. That was preceded on November 8 by a breakdown of four voltage transformers, which forced the plant to go offline shortly after it was started.

Lithuania also complained that the plant had come online without implementing the vast majority of EU or International Atomic Energy Agency recommendations, the EU Observer reported, citing the memo.

Warning that the plant could pose “significant risks” to the EU, the Lithuanian memo said that the nuclear plant’s “hasty commissioning and growing incidents indicate a real risk, which is amplified by limited management and competence abilities.” The memo went on to urge EU nations to boycott electricity produced by the Belarusian plant.

Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, which built the plant, has denied there are safety issues at the facility asserting in comments to Bloomberg that the ups and downs in power levels seen in recent weeks are a normal part of the process of bringing it into service.

“We are not in a position to comment on the national regulator’s consultations with other watchdogs and international expert groups,” Rosatom’s press office told the agency in a statement.

In earlier comments, in response to the planned EU visit to the plant, Rosatom emphasized that: “We are committed to the highest standards of transparency and have always provided all stakeholders with any and all information they might require on the design and progress of the project.”

In comments reported by Bloomberg last week, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson called the delay “very regrettable.”

Commenting at a European Parliament committee meeting last Wednesday, she said, “The Belarusian regulator didn’t participate in the necessary preparatory technical meeting” to prepare the visit and “in these circumstances the physical visit to the Ostravets site would have no value.” As a result, the team called off the visit.

“The mission continues to call on Belarus to act responsibly and cooperate so that the peer-review exercise can be completed safely and in full transparency,” she said. The EU Commission aims to reschedule the visit as soon as possible and complete the review before the station begins commercial operations, she said.

Belarus’ regulator “remains committed to receive the visit and will provide everything necessary,” spokesman Oleg Sobolev told Bloomberg. “Belarus is ready to show the experts the nuclear plant and to fulfill all voluntary obligations regarding it.”