Just over 30 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which saw Belarus lose a quarter of its territory due to nuclear contamination, the former Soviet republic is set to see its first nuclear power station enter operation in one and a half year’s time from now.
The location in the Belarusian town of Astravets – a mere 50 kilometres from Lithuania’s capital Vilnius – is understandably giving its neighbour the jitters. To make matters worse, the construction of the plant has been mired by a series of mishaps and incidents, sparking major concerns over the safety of the installation.
Playing the silent game
In August last year, news emerged that a crane had dropped the 330 tonne heavy reactor from a height of 4 metres during a test lift. If dropping a nuclear reactor was not bad enough in itself, the Belarusian authorities’ attempts to deny or otherwise keep silent on the matter for weeks on end sparked eerie memories of how the Soviets handled the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.
“We never get any information, or we hear something only a month after it happened”, says Darius Degutis, Lithuania’s ambassador at large for the issues related to the Astravets Nuclear Power Plant.
Russian state-owned company Rosatom, the nuclear plant’s main contractor, is complicit in playing the “silent game” by first denying that the accident caused any damage to the reactor shell, only to change its story afterwards by offering to replace the shell. Adding to the concerns was another incident in February 2017, whereby the second reactor hit a power pillar during transport.
By limiting the scope of the IAEA’s mission, the nuclear watchdog cannot comment on these kinds of issues. To make matters worse, the Belarusian government declared that it would itself perform the plant’s risk and safety assessment.
Given how the numerous incidents at the plant have been handled so far, it is questionable as to whether the Belarusian authorities can be trusted with performing these stress tests in full accordance with European specifications.
Read more at Belarus nuclear plant: A disaster waiting to happen