In order to diversify its energy market and mitigate the dependence on the Russian energy supplies, in 2008 Belarus made a decision to build the first nuclear power plant in the north-western part of the country – in Ostrovets city. Initially 74 locations were considered as suitable for building – the best one should have been chosen. The analysis on compliance with geographical and safety standards was conducted. As a result, the amount of the sites available for the construction narrowed down to 15 locations. The president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has unexpectedly chosen the site near Ostrovets city, which is only 20 kilometers from the border with Lithuania and no more than 45-50 km – from the capital of neighboring state, Vilnius.
In this regard, in the report of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, published in 2019, it is said that the Ostrovets NPP is situated on the dangerous cross of the flight routes to and from Vilnius International Airport – the fact that makes one think about potential risks. Ostrovets NPP has already been running the first nuclear reactor, which is expected to be used at full capacity in the first quarter of 2021, the building area of the NPP is guarded by no less than 300 militaries who were trained by the Russian national guard in St. Petersburg city. An anti-aircraft missile regiment is deployed on the territory of the nuclear plant with a TOR-M2 anti-air defence system, new radiolocation military and mobile radars – and all this military equipment is based close to the border with Lithuania.
Considering these circumstances, Lithuania objected the construction of Ostrovets NPP. One of the reasons we have already mentioned above, is close proximity of the nuclear power plant to highly populated area, where about six hundred thousand citizens live. Naturally, Lithuania is concerned about the risks of industrial disaster, that is why the country has already held drills to prepare for a nuclear emergency. The worries regarding the existent threat of the catastrophe, equivalent to the explosion on Chernobyl nuclear power plant, are strong.
Lithuania is also seriously concerned about the harmful influence of Ostrovets NPP on its river Neris (Vilija), which flows in transboundary zone and crosses the major part (72%) of Lithuanian territory. If an emergency will happen, 57-95% of drinking water in Vilnius, Jonava and Kaunas cities might be affected by radiation. Ostrovets NPP is about 7-10 kilometers far from Neris, the river serves as a cooling system for the plant. However, it is 55-65 meters lower than the plant, which means that the cooling system highly depends on continuous work of the water pumps and electricity supply, necessary for keeping pumps turned on. The electricity fail can lead to a catastrophe when the reactor-core melts. Such an accident had happened in Fukushima NPP, in 2011.
Yet, Ostrovets NPP is vulnerable to seismic activity since it is situated on the area which had experienced earthquake in 1908 and was recognised as inappropriate for construction of strategic objects in 1993.
It is worth mentioning that the implementation of this dubious project was accompanied by permanent scandals. The press reported that five people died at the building area; the reactor vessel was damaged, and even though later it was replaced, the new one – once again – collided with a railway pylon while being transported.
Since 2008, Lithuania has systematically protested against the construction of the nuclear power plant, arguing that Belarus did not comply with the requirements of the Espoo Convention, which obligates neighboring countries to coordinate together the construction of projects that may pose a potential danger to the environment and population. According to the conclusions of the meeting of the parties to the Espoo Convention that took place in February 2019, the Minsk’s decision of choosing Ostrovets city for building a new nuclear power plant was not reasonable. Belarus also failed to comply with the recommendations of the Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), according to which the nuclear power plant should be built at a distance of at least 100 kilometers from a populated area.
The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats has concluded that the project is not only inconsistent with technical standards, but is also economically “insecure.” The fact that 90% of the construction is financed by Russia is a well-known one – its state-controlled corporation Rosatom provides 10 billion dollars loan for the project. “Russia’s tax manoeuvres pushed Belarus to accept the project in order to diversify its sources of energy. However, considering the financing of the NPP, diversifying energy sources is not equivalent to diversifying away from dependence on Russia,” was mentioned in the report. “In the case of Ostrovets, there is a risk of Russia using the 25-year loan for political coercion. The means of doing this may include raising the interest rate, renegotiating worse loan conditions, discrediting the creditworthiness of Belarus, or raising concerns over the commitment of Belarus to assuring the safety of the NPP.”
It is supposed that Ostrovets NPP will produce more power than Belarus needs – consequently, the country wants to export the energy to neighboring Baltic States and the EU. The Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats warns that the project potentially threatens the energy independence of the Baltic States, since the dependence of these countries on Belarusian and Russian energy supplies can become an object of political manipulations. Lithuania and Poland have already refused to be a consumers. Recently Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda negotiated with Estonian leader Kersti Kaljulaid – Mrs.Kaljulaid declared solidarity with the decision of Lithuania on the matter of dangerous nuclear power plant. Previously Mrs.Kaljulaid stated that Estonia may refuse to consume the energy from Belarusian NPP only on economical reasons – because of the high taxes on the EU border that may be implemented in the nearest future.
The boycott of Ostrovets NPP, initiated by the Baltic States, is a consistent decision related to the lack of transparency and low safety standards. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Belarusian nuclear power plant is a time bomb for the EU Member States, a very few countries understand the problem today. Despite collaborative efforts, the Baltic States have not managed to call for the international boycott of Ostrovets NPP and to achieve the dangerous project to be shut down yet.