Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have raised serious concerns over the safety of the Ostrovets nuclear plant in Belarus and demanded that its commercial launch is suspended.
In a resolution adopted with 642 votes to 29, with 21 abstentions, Parliament has criticised the hasty commissioning of the Ostrovets nuclear plant, the continued lack of transparency and official communication regarding the frequent emergency shutdowns of the reactor and equipment failure.
Despite outstanding safety concerns, the plant started to generate electricity on 3 November 2020 without fully implementing recommendations made in the 2018 EU peer review and by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), MEPs said, expressing their discontent with the rush to start commercial operation of the plant in March 2021.
They are calling on the Commission to work closely with the Belarusian authorities to delay launching the plant until all EU stress test recommendations are fully implemented and all the necessary safety improvements are in place.
European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson has pointed out that a team of nuclear safety experts from the Commission and the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) has just concluded a visit on the site of the power plant, a key part of the ongoing peer review process and an independent report will be published soon.
MEPs also are urging Belarus to fully comply with international nuclear and environmental safety standards and to cooperate with international authorities in a transparent manner.
“I wrote to the Prime Minister of Belarus on 6 November 2020 requesting that the Belarusian Government makes sure that all the steps in the commissioning process are taken in full respect of the highest safety standards and that the stress test recommendations deemed of high priority by ENSREG are implemented as a minimum before commercial operations start,” said Commissioner Simson. “Let me be clear: in line with international law, the decision on whether to grant the licence for commercial operations to the Ostroverts plant lies with the Belarusian authorities and the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the plant remains that of the operator under the supervision of the national nuclear regulator.”
The Ostrovets nuclear plant, built by the Russian group Rosatom, is located 50 kilometres from Vilnius, in Lithuania and in close proximity to other EU countries such as Poland, Latvia and Estonia.
When fuel loading began earlier in August, Lithuania’s then Minister of Energy Žygimantas Vaičiūnas claimed that Belarus was being negligent and irresponsible in its handling of security issues and was posing 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 Mr 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 and the Baltic Staes have jointly adopted a decision to cease commercial exchanges of electricity with Belarus once the Ostrovets plant started operating. However, MEPs now fear that electricity from Belarus can still enter the EU market via the Russian grid.
“We do not have evidence that would confirm that the electricity sold to the Baltic market by Russia would have been bought from Belarus,” stressed Mrs Simson. “But we are looking closely at all information available on trade flows and we will continue following the developments. On the other hand, physical flows are unavoidable, as the three Baltic States are still connected to the grid with Russia and Belarus. That is why we need to address this problem through the synchronisation process with the EU continental grid and the Commission is committed and contributes to it with 1 billion euros.”