Bloomberg News

Lithuania Urges Belarus to Halt Nuclear Project on Safety Issues

August 20, 2013

Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius demanded neighboring Belarus stop work on its first nuclear power plant until it proves the project complies with international treaties and nuclear safety standards.

Lithuania sent Belarus two diplomatic notes over the past month to protest earth-moving and other initial work for the plant near the border town of Ostrovets, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, Butkevicius said.

“We have many concerns about safety and information we’ve asked for hasn’t been provided,” the premier said today on Lithuanian public radio. “We urge Belarus to refrain from unilateral actions, we await their response and expect them to abide by international treaties they’ve signed.”

A United Nations committee in April said Belarus wasn’t abiding by the terms of the Espoo Convention on cross-border environmental issues at the site chosen for its plant or information provided to neighboring states and the public. The former Soviet republic plans to erect two Russian-built reactors at Ostrovets to reduce its dependence on imported Russian gas.

“Under requirements of the Espoo Convention, construction of this plant definitely can’t begin,” Butkevicius said. “We’re going to actively seek to draw the attention of international organizations, stressing that the environmental impact assessment with Lithuania hasn’t been completed.”

Formal Procedures

Belarusian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Andrey Savinykh said his country provided “precise and detailed” answers to all of Lithuania’s questions almost a year ago, and the Baltic neighbor has since ignored offers to hold consultations on disputed issues.

“We have the impression that Lithuania actively seeks to avoid participating in measures foreseen in the Espoo Convention,” Savinykh said today by phone from Minsk. “Lithuania is not ready for dialogue, and I would rather not speculate on its motives.”

The Geneva-based Implementation Committee for the Espoo Convention, in its April decision, said Belarus at times approached requirements for dialogue with abutting countries as “mere formalities,” not fully addressing key issues and sometimes not responding at all to specific queries.

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko fixed Ostrovets as the site for the new nuclear plant by decree in September 2011, before an environmental impact assessment had been completed. Since then the government has failed to explain why that site is better than alternatives and detail “the specific impact on human health and safety,” the committee said.

Latvia, Poland and Ukraine, which also share borders with Belarus and are parties to the Espoo Convention, hadn’t lodged objections to the Belarusian nuclear plant, the Implementation Committee said in its report. Russia, which isn’t a party to the treaty, is helping to finance the project.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryan Bradley in Vilnius at bbradley13@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net


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