Lithuania Asked Belarus to Clarify Accidents At Rosatom-made Nuclear Power Plant

MINSK (GDC) — Lithuania has asked Belarus for clarification after its new nuclear plant located some 50 kilometres from the country’s capital suffered an incident just five days after launch.

Belarusian authorities say the country’s new nuclear power plant has been taken offline during testing procedures after the generator protection system was triggered.

At 7:02 p.m., Unit 1 at the Astravets plant was “disconnected from the network after the generator protection system was activated,” the Energy Ministry said in a statement on January 16.

This occurred “during the pilot industrial operation of Power Unit 1, as part of which the systems and equipment are being tested,” the ministry said, adding that radiation levels in the area were “normal.”

In November 2020, just three days after it was inaugurated near the western city of Astravets, Belarus’s only nuclear plant halted electricity production after voltage transformers were said to have exploded.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko took part in the opening of the plant on 6 November, where he said the launch of the Astravyets NPP was as “ordinary” as building a metro.

“Belarus is becoming a nuclear power,” he declared.

Several voltage-measuring transformers outside of the nuclear reactor exploded during an incident on 7 November, according to sources at TUT.by, an independent media outlet in Belarus.

On Monday, the Belarusian Energy Ministry said that “a need to replace the measuring equipment arose” during testing, without providing further details.

Lithuania’s State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate (VATESI) said the plant is still undergoing testing. However, “we have also received no information about the [planned] next steps to launch the plant”, VATESI told BNS in a written comment.

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Lithuania has been one of the most ardent critics of the nuclear plant built by the Russian state atomic corporation Rosatom and funded by a loan from the Kremlin.

Vilnius says the plant is unsafe and was built in breach of international safety standards. Minsk denies all allegations.

In September, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland had sent a joint statement to the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and contracting parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS), calling on Belarus to start addressing nuclear safety issues without delay.

At the same time, the Russian company Rosatom is in talks with Belarus about the construction of a second nuclear power plant and a research reactor in the country, Rosatom chief Alexander Likhachev announced on Tuesday in a video statement.

Russian Rosatom sold VVER-1200/523 reactor to Bangladesh, Turkey, India and Belarus which is 1970s technology and never been certified by the European and American authorities. Rosatom told GDC that in the future, it intends to certify the VVER with the British and U.S. regulatory authorities, though Rosatom is unlikely to apply for a British license.

In August, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania agreed not to purchase electricity from the plant.

The Baltic states are gearing up to switch from the Russian-controlled BRELL electricity grid that also includes Belarus, and synchronise with the continental European system by 2025.

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