In July, construction workers at the Astravets nuclear power plant in Belarus dropped a 330 ton reactor shell. Weeks went by before the government admitted an “abnormal situation” had occurred, prompting international concerns about safety at the Russian-built facility—and the Belarusian government’s unwillingness to disclose information in a timely manner.
Mounting mishaps at the construction site are raising concerns over safety, particularly in the neighboring country of Lithuania. Troublingly, government authorities in Belarus and those involved in the construction have been accused of withholding information, eliciting comparisons to Soviet-style secrecy during the Cold War.
Belarus, in an effort to free itself from Russia’s energy grip, is building a nuclear power plant in Astravets, a district located about 96 miles (155 km) from the capital Minsk, and just 30 miles (50 km) from Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Initial plans to build the plant were announced in the 1980s, but the Chernobyl disaster, which contaminated a quarter of Belarus, quickly put the kibosh on those plans. Now, some thirty years later, Belarus is going ahead with the nuclear plant. Things are not going well.
Last month, a member of the opposition United Civic Party claimed that a 330 ton nuclear reactor shell had been dropped from a height of somewhere between 6 to 13 feet (2 to 4 meters) in preparation for installation. Two weeks went by before the Belarusian Energy Ministry confirmed that an “emergency situation” had happened. Work has now been suspended at the construction site.
Back in April, a structural frame of the nuclear service building collapsed after workers, who were pressured to meet a deadline, poured too much concrete into the frame. As with the recent incident, Belarusian officials failed to divulge details.
The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, was suspiciously quiet after both accidents, drawing ire from domestic critics and the Lithuanian government. After downplaying the recent incident, a Lithuanian minister dismissed the “childish” explanations about the accident. Lithuania is threatening to block the plant coming online should Belarus fail to meet international safety standards. In response, Lukashenko told Lithuania to stop complaining and start helping his country run the plant. Meanwhile, the European Commission is looking into Lithuania’s complaints.
Read more at The First Nuclear Power Plant in Belarus Is a Dangerous Fiasco