July 4, 2018 / 1:42 PM / 5 months ago

Lithuania urges EU to pressure Belarus over nuclear safety

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuania will ask the European Commission to put pressure on Belarus to modify a nearly completed nuclear power plant which the Baltic country sees as a threat to its safety and national security, Lithuania’s prime minister said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Lithuania's Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis speaks during a a joint news conference with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (not pictured), in Vilnius, Lithuania January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Belarus, which borders European Union member Lithuania but is not part of the 28-country bloc, denies the Astravets plant has any safety problems. The plant, near the border with Lithuania, was built by Russia’s Atomstroyexport and financed by Moscow with a $10 billion (7.57 billion pounds) loan

In findings published on Wednesday, the European Union Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG), a department of the European Commission, said Astravets needed to upgrade its safety measures to better resist earthquakes, ensure the power plant is protected from ground water or extreme weather and review its procedures for operation during large-scale emergencies.

The safety review was begun after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan.

Asked whether Lithuania would request the Commission to put pressure on Belarus to change its project in line with the report’s recommendations, Lithuania’s prime minister Saulius Skvernelis said he would.

He said he doubted Belarus would modify the project without the pressure.

“Our experience during construction of the power plant indicates that that is not necessary what will happen,” he said.

In a press release published on Tuesday, the Commission called on Belarus to develop an action plan “to ensure timely implementation of all safety improvement measures in accordance with their safety significance”.

Lithuania has been opposed to the building of the Astravets plant from the beginning, and is seeking regional action to tax or block all electricity imports from Belarus.

Lithuania says Astravets, called Ostrovets in Belarus, does not meet safety standards, and points to a number of accidents at the site and a lack of independent oversight.

Modifications to the power plant to implement the measures would be complicated, costly and time-consuming, Lithuania’s foreign affairs minister Linas Linkevicius told BNS wire.

“We can’t imagine how the plant could get licensed without implementing the recommended measures,” said the minister.

Belarus expects to have the two 1.2 gigawatt VVER 1200 reactors online in 2020, according to the Astravets website.

Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Mark Potter

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