Minsk will not abandon Nuclear Power Plant construction in Belarus
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
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.