Belarus promises stress tests on Astravyets nuclear plant

The facility, which is being built some 50km from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, has been harshly criticized by the Lithuanian government which has concerns about its safety.

“We conducted acquisition procedures, announced public tenders, they took place, we should now announce the winner and the organization will then conduct a stress test,” Vladimir Gorin, deputy chief engineer of the Belarusian power plant, told journalists at the Astravyets construction site on Wednesday.

He refused to specify the countries whose companies were vying for the contract, emphasizing that they were not Belarusian organizations.

“Prior to opening the envelopes, I cannot say who [the winner is]. (…) No, this is not a Belarusian organization, it is a foreign organizations,” said Gorin.

During a visit in Lithuania in February, EC Vice-President for the Energy Union Maros Sefcovic said that the Astravyets nuclear plant would have to be subjected to stress tests to prove it was safe.

Lithuania is concerned about emergency preparedness plans, especially about the evacuation of Vilnius in case of a major accident in Astravyets. There are also unanswered questions about managing spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.

Gorin said on Wednesday that Astravyets plant’s protection and evacuation plans were in place.

“We have several plans. There is the state plan for protection of the population (…). There is also a plan for protection of the plant’s personnel in case of an emergency. This is a draft document under preparation. It should be approved later and integrated into the population protection plan,” said the Astravyets engineer.

In his words, the external protective body of the reactor is designed to resist crash of large airliners, therefore, no additional protection measures are planned. Gorin admitted that aircraft defence systems were under construction near the nuclear plant.

Dispensing of radioactive waste would be the responsibility of Russia, which is also the supplier of nuclear fuel for the plant, he said.

“There will be two types of waste. There is spent fuel, which is considered a raw material rather than waste, and it will go to Russia for remake under our agreement (…). It will be transported by rail – there are special train cars, special containers. There is also radioactive waste, which is produced as a result of the power plant’s operations,” he added.

In Gorin’s words, the radioactive waste will be placed in special containers and stored at a temporary storage facility before being transported to a state-run nuclear storage facility.

Members of the Espoo Convention have said the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant project is falling short of the convention’s requirements. Lithuania has repeatedly criticized Belarus for failing to ensure safety of the project developed merely 50 km from Lithuania’s capital Vilnius. Meanwhile, Minsk has rejected Lithuania’s criticism, insisting the facility will meet top safety standards.

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