Controversial Belarus Nuclear Plant Loads First Fuel Rods
image credit: Astravets Power Station under construction by Delphi
- Aug 11, 2020 4:00 pm GMTAug 11, 2020 12:29 pm GMT
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The small central European state of Belarus is powering up its only nuclear plant, with the first fuel being loaded on 31st July. The procedure is expected to be completed by the end of August and then the 1,200 MW VER-1200 reactor, built using the Russian AES-2006 design, would be ready to deliver power by the end of this year.
This is the first of two reactors to be constructed on the site. Another of the same design is expected to be completed by mid 2022. The plant is being built by Atomstroyexport, a Rosatom subsidiary.
Neighbouring countries are not happy. Lithuania, whose capital, Vilnius, is only thirty miles from the plant at Astravets, is concerned about the safety aspects of the facility. Lithuania is refusing to buy electricity produced by the plant. Estonia and Latvia are discussing with Lithuania the concept of placing fees on power imports from Russia because of the plant’s construction.
Officials in Belarus have repeatedly said the plant meets IAEA requirements, citing several inspections by the agency. Safety provisions have been increased in the light of the Fukushima disaster. Officials also said that representatives of the European Commission and the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group have overseen the project’s construction.
Nevertheless the neighboring countries have real concerns. The plant's safety has been questioned by both the Lithuanian president, and the energy minister. However the Generation 3+ reactor is equipped with improved safety features compared to its predecessors, according to Rosatom.
Strategically, the construction of the nuclear power stations, and other plants, is part of a Belarusian move to ensure more localisation of generation: currently 95% of its electricity is produced by Russian-imported natural gas. Constructing these new plants would reduce this to around 55%, ensuring greater energy security.