17:48 Jun. 8, 2016
Dispute grows between Minsk and Vilnius over the possible outcomes
Chornobyl - the most tragic nuclear accident to date claimed thousands of lives and left many villages and towns abandoned in Ukraine and Belarus. The deadly radiation levels can still be registered in the exclusion zone.
In recent history, Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster triggered by a tsunami near Japan left a huge dent on the life expectancy of the population leading to hundreds of cancer diagnoses in the area. Despite that, nuclear energy remains one of the primary electricity sources across the world.
Belarus, the country that suffered immense consequences in the Chornobyl aftermath is now focusing on its very first nuclear power plant. The project, initiated in 2009, has seen some difficult times. For a while, Minsk couldn't find the money for it and eventually reached out to its closest ally Moscow for help.
After lengthy negotiations, Russia agreed to provide a USD 9 billion loan, which, according to Belarus, was enough to not only build the plant but also invest in the infrastructure around it. And, of course, Kremlin was also willing to offer further assistance in the construction process, so Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom was selected for the job.
However, financial predicaments were only the beginning for what would become a highly controversial project.
The controversy starts with its location. The plant is right on the Belarus-Lithuania border, just 50 kilometres away from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. Evidently, officials there were not to keen on having a nuclear plant right at their doorstep. Safety is the primary issue here and of course, Lithuania was adamant about remind Belarus of the 1986 catastrophe.
Monument to victims of the Chornobyl tragedy (UNIAN Photo)
"Some villages near Chornobyl had to be relocated around 50-60 kilometres away from the epicenter of the catastrophe. This means, if an accident happens, Vilnius will have to be evacuated", Lithuanian lawmaker Gintaras Songaila said back in 2010.
Despite all the assurances from Minsk, Vilnius insisted the project was built violating numerous international safety code requirements. Shortly before the construction started, Lithuanian Ministry of Environment released its statement on the situation saying Belarus failed to conduct all the necessary research and establish all the risks the nuclear power plant posed.
Watch also Chornobyl: Thirty years later
Lithuanian critics also slammed Belarusian intentions to use the local river as the main source of water supply for the plant. They stated, eventually, all the technical substances from the plant would end up in the river. Additionally, the experts said, the water temperature would inevitably increase, which could make all the fish vanish.
These allegations were made 6 years ago, and Lithuanian position hasn't changed since then.
"We are not such idiots", Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei recently said in response to those claims. "As a country, that suffered the most from the Chornobyl accident, we would never build an unsafe power plant".
The Minister claimed, raising such projects near densely populated areas was nothing new. As he pointed out, several nuclear power plants in Belgium and Serbia were even closer to big cities, than the Belarusian one. Furthermore, he added, an active Lithuanian power plant was located only two kilometres away from the Belarusian border.
The Minister was quite emotional calling the situation around the construction "political Bacchanalia" and "anti-Belarusian hysteria". He assured the project was absolutely safe for everyone.
Pripyat, an abandoned city in Chornobyl (UNIAN Photo)
However, Lithuanian officials weren't persuaded by any of this, though. The country's Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevicius said Belarus didn't do enough to refute the fears.
"We have three demands, and I want to repeat them. We want to create an international commission, which will monitor the building. But Belarus has declined this proposition" Linkevicius said in an interview with Belarusian media outlet Charter97.
Among the other demands the Minister mentioned stress-tests of the power plant. "They must be done in accordance to European standards. Because currently Rosatom wants to test itself, without European experts."
And the last demand is the examination of the construction site. "It must have been conducted before the building started. And still, we want it done now", Linkevicius said.
Both countries say they are open to negotiations. But so far it remains unclear if Belarus will agree to any of the terms Lithuania is proposing. Despite the issues, Minsk continues with the construction of the very first Belarusian power plant. According to official information, the first energy unit should be done by 2018, the second one – by 2020. Rosatom assures, all the lessons from the Chornobyl and Fukushima catastrophes have been learned.
"The Earth is such a beautiful planet, but I wish it was bigger. Because if something happens, when the Belarusian nuclear power plant is built, there will be nowhere to hide", said Svetlana Alexievich, a 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature winner. Her words serve as a reminder, that everyone should fully understand responsibility for their actions.