Astravyets due to launch soon: how will Lithuania protect itself?

Zones of radioctive termination of the Astravyets nuclear power plant

There is ever less time left to the launch of the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant. Lithuania is taking measures to prevent the entry of Belarusian electrical power into our market. There are plans that the power plant will already become operational next year and Lithuania still has electrical power links to Belarus and furthermore, our goal to accomplish synchronisation with the Western European power grid will only be achieved no earlier than by 2025. Will Lithuania manage to avoid Belarussian electricity up to then, Monika Kasnikovskytė asks in TV3.lt portal?

In December, the Seimas almost unanimously approved President Gitanas Nausėda‘s proposal on how to prevent power from Astravyets NPP that is being built in Belarus entering Lithuania.

If the project is approved with a final vote, companies will not be issued permits for electrical power imports from Belarus. Furthermore, upon the government strategic company contract review commission ruling that an importer poses a threat to the country’s national security, its license will be withdrawn. The legislation should come into power as soon as Astravyets NPP becomes operational.

“Electrons travel as per the laws of physics”

Despite this, as soon as members of Seimas reviewed the project there were concerns that Astravyets NPP electrical power could still reach Lithuania by alternative routes. Take how Eugenijus Gentvilas of the Liberal Movement observed that power generated in Belarus likely will be exported to Russia, from where it could reach Finland and from there – Lithuania. Also, the possibility cannot be dismissed that Belarussian electrical power will be sold by Russia to Latvia, from where the electricity would also reach Lithuania.

Patreon the Lithuania Tribune

Meanwhile, one of the president’s advisors Jaroslav Neverovič emphasises that the legislative amendments seek to regulate trade within Lithuania, thus the law does not deal with physical electrical power flows.

“Electrons will travel as per the laws of physics even after the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant launches,” J. Neverovič said in November.

According to him, protection of the Baltic States’ electrical systems from Belarussian electrical power will be achieved through synchronisation with Western European electrical power networks and disconnecting from the BRELL (Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia) ring, leaving only Russia and Belarus in it.

Over the first half of this year, Lithuania imported almost 13% of its electricity from Belarus, with most being imported from Russia and Sweden – almost 26% each, according to Litgrid data.

First question: remaining connections

Former Minister of Energy Arvydas Sekmokas views the journey of electrical power generated in Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant to Lithuania through Finland or Latvia as a secondary issue. According to him, what is far more important is the remaining electrical power links between Lithuania and Belarus.

“Lithuania has four high voltage electrical power transfer lines to Belarus, two of which go directly toward Astravyets. And so far, we neither see nor hear any plans to terminate at least part of these electrical power lines, at least those linked to Astravyets. The fact that we are not removing them means that this is the case because we need the electricity flowing down these lines. If we did not need that electrical power, we would calmly say that we can shut down those lines and would do so,” A. Sekmokas told tv3.lt.

According to the former minister, if Lithuania is categorically intent on not using electrical power generated in Astravyets, we then no longer need the existing power lines, otherwise, we signal that this electricity is needed.

“We oppose, disagree, say that we won’t buy, but then still say that we can’t live without them. It’s not the lines that are the essence, the essence is the electrical power flowing down them. My view is as follows – if we do not shut down at least part of those lines, especially if we are fully committed to preventing Belarussian power from entering our market, we will have to shut down all the lines. If we partially close ourselves off, then at least a part of the electrical lines must be shut down, at least those from Astravyets,” A. Sekmokas noted.

The current minister thinks differently

Meanwhile, incumbent Minister of Energy Žygimantas Vaičiūnas stated just this spring that Lithuania does not have the technical capacities to shut down all the lines.

“We will shut down as many as is technically possible and safe for our system. Because firstly, such declarations are easy to make, but it is often politically irresponsible to say so. Taking and cutting the lines we currently have with Belarus, this would cause significant harm to ourselves,” the minister told Žinių Radijas in April.

Last year, Litgrid head Daivis Virbickas stated that electrical connections to Belarus will be shut down and trade between the countries will be impossible. He expressed doubt that power from Astravyets NPP could reach Lithuania through Latvia or Finland and if this were to occur, he believes that it would have little impact on the country’s market.

As soon as Astravyets NPP begins generating electricity, Litgrid will set zero transfer rates between Lithuania and Belarus, thus commercial imports from Belarus will cease and Astravyets NPP electricity will not be traded in Lithuania.

In 2018, reconstruction of the Ignalina NPP substation was begun, thus the first line to Belarus was shut down. The remaining three lines will be shut down when the Baltic States synchronise with Western European electrical power networks and depart the BRELL network.

Second question: BRELL and Western Europe

For now, Lithuania is still part of the Russian BRELL electricity ring. That said, us remaining there will not last forever if we succeed in implementing the Baltic States synchronisation with Western Europe project by the planned 2025. In such a case, our electrical power lines to Belarus and Russia will be severed.

However, this also means that the question of Belarussian electrical power will hang in the air for five more years in Lithuania.

Energy consultant, Lithuanian Renewable Energy Confederation president Martynas Nagevičius admits that up to then, Belarussian electricity will technically continue flowing into Lithuania, but the main political principle is to bar the way for commercial flows.

“This means that the electricity will be impossible to sell in Lithuania, proposals cannot be made. If the electricity somehow does flow back and forth, nothing will be earned from it and I believe the political objective will still be achieved. Whether technical flows are cooperation with Belarus, I do not know, that’s a political question, which will also likely be closed in 2025, when synchronisation is completed with the European Union and those four lines shut,” M. Nagevičius told tv3.lt.

The specialist has no doubt that the Baltic States will manage to achieve synchronisation with Western Europe. The only question is one of time.

“The main challenge in the period leading up to 2025 is the laying of the maritime Harmony Link electrical line to Poland, which costs the most and takes the most time. However, there is an agreement with Poland, there is European Commission financing, agreements. I believe it will succeed, it’s just a matter of time – whether it will be possible to achieve before 2025 or not,” M. Nagevičius mused.

Electrical plant next to the Lithuanian border

Tv3.lt reminds that the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant is being built in Belarus. The 2400MW plant is placed just 50km away from Vilnius. The power plant’s first reactor is due to launch already this year, while the second – next year.

Lithuania and Poland have made decisions to not allow entry of electrical power from Belarus once Astravyets NPP launches. Meanwhile, the Latvians did not demonstrate much solidarity to Lithuania’s interest that the neighbouring countries would also bar power from Astravyets NPP from entering their markets in the future.

In 2017, the Seimas ruled that the nuclear power plant being built in Astravyets is unsafe and poses a threat to Lithuanian national security, the environment and public health. Also, a law was passed, which prohibits purchasing electricity from unsafe power plants.

Belarus rejects Lithuania’s complaints that the plant is unsafe. Minsk states that nuclear fuel for the first reactor of the plant will be supplied by the end of this year and the plant itself launched in January 2020.

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