By on 17.09.2007

Rivne, nuclear plantThe issue of building a domestic nuclear power station in
Belarus has cropped up several times of late, but there is no definitive
program in place. A year ago, the issue appeared to be resolved, with a
proposed location in Mahileu region and a timetable for bringing the first
reactor on line (Belgazeta, September 12, 2006).

Recent statements by leading figures in the Belarusian
government, however, indicate that the question has not been thought through
properly and may constitute simply a reassuring message to the public in light
of the continuing problems of reliance on supplies of Russian oil and gas.

The Belarusian media has reported in the past that following exploration of
possible sites for a nuclear plant in the mid-1990s that a VVER (water-pressurized
reactor) station would be completed by 2013-2015 and would reach a maximum
capacity of 2,000 megawatts (i.e. two 1,000-megawatt reactors). One of the
chief advocates has been Mikhail Myasnikovich, a close associate of President
Alexander Lukashenka, and the chairman of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences
(EDM, December 6, 2006). Despite the current ban on building reactors, which
expires in 2008, as well as the continuing medical problems and contaminated
land that resulted from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the Belarusian government
declared that construction would begin in 2010.

In a recent interview, Deputy Chairman of the Academy of Sciences Uladzimir
Tsimashpolsky noted that geographical conditions in Belarus, with a
preponderance of lakes, are unfavorable for construction of any facilities. As
a result, the costs for building a station are $2,000 per kilowatt of capacity,
well above the world average of $1,600. However, Tsimashpolsky’s outlook was
optimistic, and he surmised that Belarus might become an exporter of nuclear
power to Russia as a means of alleviating the costs for natural gas imports
(www.charter97.org, September 6).

He also surprised the audience by stating that the nuclear plant’s location was
not yet fixed, and that there were three possible sites. Since two had been
cited earlier, determined from 54 original possibilities, he was asked about
the third, and replied that it was in the Hrodna region of Western Belarus. As
the Lithuanians proposed to bury nuclear waste from the Ignalina RBMK-1500
(graphite-moderated) station directly on the border with Belarus, then why
should the Belarusians not use this same area to build their own plant, he
wondered (Komsomolskaya pravda v Belorussii, September 7). He acknowledged that
one of the sites in Mahileu region was the most likely location, however
(BELTA, September 6). The two Mahileu locations are at Krasnapalyanskaya
(Bykhau region) and Kukshinauskaya (Shklou region).

At a press conference on August 30, Uladizmir Babrou, head of the Chief Administration
of Future Development and Investment of the Ministry of Energy, declared that
the important issue was the relative significance of economic expediency and
the energy security of the state. In his opinion the first unit of the proposed
station could not be brought into service before 2015, and realistically it
could be two years after that date, with the second unit ready by 2020. Belarus
lacks qualified builders and planners, particularly people with a specialized
education and hands-on experience, as well as licenses from the IAEA. The
station must therefore be constructed using the experience of foreign countries
such as Ukraine, Russia, and Lithuania. Babrau also stressed the importance of
developing other forms of energy (such as hydroelectric and wind-power) and the
possible building of an inter-state electrical power line from the Rivne
nuclear plant in Ukraine.
The latter has aroused interest in several countries
because of the forthcoming closure of the second power unit at the Ignalina
plant, an important energy supplier for the Baltic states (Belorusy i rynok,
September 3-10).

What is evident from these announcements is a fundamental difference of opinion
within the scientific and political hierarchy of Belarus regarding the
government’s demand to resolve the energy impasse with Russia by resorting to
domestic production through nuclear power. Belarus lacks the wherewithal and
resources to build its own station. The initial timetable offered a foolhardy
and even callous approach -- particularly regarding the location of the station
in a contaminated zone (EDM, December 6, 2006) -- and could not have been met
without sacrificing safety standards.

Interestingly, since Belarus cannot construct its own reactors, it would likely
turn to the Russians for assistance. Then the question arises as to whether the
fuel for Belarusian reactors would need to be purchased at world prices; thus a
Catch-22 station would be in place. Ukraine expanded its existing program with
the help of the G-8 countries and to compensate for the shutdown of Chernobyl
in 2000. Belarus has no such negotiating power or indeed friends in the
industrialized countries of the West.

Further, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that political posturing has
replaced reasoned and scientific analysis of the various sites and building
plans. The notion of exporting nuclear energy to Russia seems far-fetched given
the scope and ambitions of Russia’s own civilian nuclear program. Last
September, Rosatom declared that its goal was to provide 23% of Russia’s
electricity from nuclear plants by 2020, by which time nuclear capacity would
be increased by 2-3 times (www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf45.html). Even given
the possible depletion of gas reserves by that year, it is unlikely that the Russians
would need imported electricity from Belarus. The Belarusians clearly need to
rethink this issue.



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