Minsk will not abandon Nuclear Power Plant construction in Belarus

May 31, 2016 12:04

Despite complications in relations with Lithuania and costly nuclear programme, Minsk will not abandon the NPP construction. It aims to complete the construction as scheduled. The Belarusian authorities regard the Belarusian NPP as a necessary element to ensure national energy security.

After 2000, during a rapid growth in prices for traditional energy resources, the Belarusian authorities have made substantial efforts to ensure energy security. The use of natural gas supplies as a tool of political pressure by the Kremlin has prompted Belarus to developing own energy resources.

Diversification of energy suppliers is yet another way to ensure Belarus’ energy security. This means the construction of the nuclear power plant and several coal-fired plants. The plans to construct the latter have been abandoned.

For the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant, the authorities have chosen a Russian project AES-2006 with enhanced security generation "3+", approved by the European Union. IAEA experts supervise the whole construction cycle and provide consulting support. Reactors, similar to those to be used in the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets, have also been supplied to NPP construction sites in Turkey, Finland and a number of Russian regions.

According to the Belarusian authorities, the nuclear power plant would solve a number of strategic tasks:

  • Reduce the state’s need for imported energy resources by almost a quarter.
  • Reduce natural gas consumption by 4.5 billion cubic metres of gas per year.
  • Create a guaranteed fuel stock for power generating installation covering the period of 10 and more years.
  • Significantly improve the reliability of power supply and reduce Belarus’ dependence on Gazprom, the main energy supplier. Uranium ore is used to produce nuclear power. Today, Canada, South Africa, USA, Namibia, Australia, France, Gabon, Russia, Kazakhstan and other countries mine for uranium, which means, there is a potential diversification of nuclear fuel suppliers. This, however, would violate the Russo-Belarusian agreement on the NPP construction. But, compliance with treaties is not the hallmark in the post-Soviet space.
  • Ensure cost savings of the electricity generated in the national grid as a whole.

Introducing nuclear fuel in Belarus would stabilise energy prices. According tothe Belarusian authorities, the crisis in the global economy and conflicts in oil extracting regions have an impact on prices for most energy resources.

In order to ensure uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel in Belarus, the authorities are planning to buy shares (circa 10%) of the International Uranium Enrichment Centre.

Fears that Russia may limit nuclear fuel supplies for political reasons appear to be unjustified. Rosatom is an international level corporation with global business interests. Provided that nuclear sphere is a sensitive one, politically motivated obstacles for the Belarusian NPP would immediately close doors for Rosatom on the international market. That said, the Russian nuclear corporation has not stopped fulfilling its obligations vis-a-vis Ukraine even in time of war.

Fears for the safety of the Belarusian NPP are equally unjustified. A special unit of Internal Troops of the Ministry of Interior have been created for the NPP protection. Border security near Ostrovets region has been enhanced too and two border posts have been created. The nuclear defence system has also been installed - according to unconfirmed reports the site will be directly covered by the Tor missile defence system. For the Belarusian secret services, ensuring the safety of the NPP will be among the priorities.

Objectively, the construction of the nuclear power plant will enhance Belarus’ energy security as it would diversify energy resources, introduce new suppliers, and enable establishing fuel stocks for a long time-period. The national energy system will reduce its dependence on Gasprom, the Kremlin’s political instrument. That said, the economic reasoning of the project is not so straightforward. While taking the decision about the NPP construction, the Belarusian authorities have envisaged an increase in electricity consumption in Belarus due to GDP growth, which is not so relevant for the near future.

Image: Vadzim Zamirouski, TUT.BY

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.