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Fuel loading begins at Belarusian NPP, Lithuania turns to the IAEA

Russia’s Rosatom Engineering Division reported that fuel loading began at the Belarusian nuclear power plant (NPP) Unit 1.

Following the fuel loading, the reactor will reach the minimum controllable level (1 per cent of the total power capacity) and relevant tests will be performed. From that moment on, the reactor will acquire the status of a nuclear power facility.

“The Republic of Belarus has become the owner of a power unit built according to the latest Gen 3+ technologies,” said Rosatom Director General, Alexey Likhachev. “This technology has been proved and tested through the operation of similar power units in Russia. They meet all the post-Fukushima safety requirements and all the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] missions have recognised their reliability. It is very important for us that we have built the first VVER-1200 unit abroad in the Republic of Belarus, a good neighbour of ours.”

However, another neighbouring country is expressing serious concerns regarding the nuclear power plant. Lithuania’s Minister of Energy Žygimantas Vaičiūnas is claiming that Belarus is being negligent and irresponsible in its handling of security issues and poses a threat to both its own security and that of its neighbouring countries.

“Lithuania’s position is clear, unchanged and enshrined in law – we will not buy electricity produced at the Belarusian NPP and our energy infrastructure will not be used for the needs of this power plant,” said Minister Vaičiūnas. “The ban on access to the Lithuanian market for electricity from third countries, as provided for in legislation, will be activated by eliminating electricity trading capacity as soon as the NPP in Astravets starts generating electricity. We are prepared for this both legally and technically.”

Indeed, Lithuania has adopted a law stipulating that electricity from third countries where unsafe NPPs are in operation cannot enter the Lithuanian electricity market. According to the procedure established in the legislation, from the moment the NPP in Astravets begins generating electricity, the capacity of the interconnectors between Lithuania and Belarus for commercial flows from third countries will be set to zero megawatts (MW) and electricity produced in Belarus will not be able to enter the Lithuanian market.

Minister Vaičiūnas has also discussed the situation with Director General of the IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi. Mr Vaičiūnas highlighted that the Ministry of Extreme Situations of Belarus changed the process of licensing of nuclear power plants and the general licence will be replaced by permits for individual stages.

“Such rush, likely determined by the elections to be held this weekend, raises many questions regarding the safety of this power plant and confirms the concerns about serious problems accompanying the project,” he said. “At the same time, it raises the question of political pressure on the Belarus nuclear energy regulator, as the Nuclear Safety Convention clearly states that independence of a nuclear energy regulator in the decision-making process must be ensured.”

For its part, Rosatom is underlining how the VVER-1200 reactor can have a number of advantages that significantly increase its economic performance and safety. The Belarusian NPP Unit 1 is the first unit of the newest Gen 3+ built using Russian technologies abroad.

“The main feature of the VVER-1200 is a unique combination of active and passive safety systems that make the NPP fully resistant to external and internal influences,” explained Andrey Petrov, Director General of Rosenergoatom. “For example, all power units are equipped with a core catcher, a device provided to catch the molten core material of a nuclear reactor, as well as other passive safety systems capable of operating in a complete power outage and without operators. In addition, the capacity of the power unit has increased by 20 per cent, the number of maintenance personnel has been significantly reduced and the design life of the main equipment has been doubled from 30 to 60 years with the possibility of extending it for another 20 years”.

Now it is up to the IAEA, and other international market players, to clear the situation, either giving a green light to Belarus or complying with Lithuania’s requests.

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