In pursuit of preventing Astravyets, problems with Latvia

Building site of the Astravyets Nuclear site
Ramūnas Bogdanas

Lithuanian political leadership has unanimously accepted the view that the Astravyets nuclear power plant is dangerous and the Ministry of Energy visited Latvia yesterday in an effort to obtain cooperation. Latvia currently still has not agreed to boycott the power plant being constructed in Belarus, TV3.lt reported.

Since 2008 Lithuania has been striving to prevent the construction of a nuclear power plant near Astravyets, Belarus which is just 55 kilometres from Vilnius.

How will the prevention of such constructions realistically proceed?

Need to prevent operation

Vytautas Magnus University Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy PhD candidate Justinas Juozaitis says that Astravyets NPP is not a Belarussian project. “It is often said that Lithuania should do something against Belarus, but disregarding Russian investment I do not really see any logical economic basis for it. We should start from looking at the fact that the project is financed by Russian, with Russian contractors and technology. We can try pressuring Belarus all we want, but if they are receiving funding, why would they stop the process. These efforts of ours to obstruct construction can hardly be successful,” Juozaitis says.

“If we physically limit electricity flows between the Belarussian – Lithuanian border, it means that the project’s implementation is significantly hampered. And then respectively Belarus has nowhere to put the electricity, cannot make use of the Kruonis Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Plant, which they need. This means that they would need further investment for the nuclear power plant to function,” he notes.

The expert assures that the synchronisation of electrical grids would ensure independence. “It is unfortunate that synchronisation with continental European electrical grids is currently set for far later than the completion of Astravyets, though there is a question of how timely it will be. After synchronisation, however, we would have ensured that electricity made in specifically Astravyets NPP will either not enter Baltic systems or only in minor capacities,” Juozaitis states.

Problems with Latvia

Currently an increasing number of disputes with neighbouring Latvia have arisen due to its disagreement to aggressive opposition to Astravyets NPP. Yesterday Minister of Energy Žygimantas Vaičiūnas even visited Riga in an effort to come to agreement on cooperation on the topic.

Justinas Juozaitis explains potential reasons for such disagreements. “Latvia has no serious issues due to the construction of Astravyets. Respectively they are formulating a pragmatic position that yes they should care about the security of Astravyets, but at least for now they will offer no help. There are other factors from the Latvian side. This is matters of cargo from Belarus, with a majority of cargo from Belarus being serviced at the Klaipėda port and the Latvians are perhaps hoping that with intensifying conflict between Lithuania and Belarus, they could take over those cargo flows. While we always view the Baltics as the most mutually cooperative, however we are always competing economically. Similarly to EU investment, Lithuania and Latvia are competing for Belarussian cargo,” the expert says.

Latvia competing

Minister of Energy Žygimantas Vaičiūnas visited Riga yesterday and claims he can see certain positive shifts. He assures that an expert group has been formed with Latvia and it will decide how it would be possible to boycott electricity from Astravyets NPP.

“We have to change our positions and do it more aggressively. That change in position is displayed by the political party consensus, the Seimas passing a resolution and the current government programme which speaks against any nuclear projects in Lithuania. I would not accuse Lithuanian diplomats of it, I would simply say that earlier we attempted to obstruct Astravyets more subtly, not with our own hands, but through other organisations.

Doing that is, of course, not really possible any longer. So now naturally the Lithuanians are laying all the cards on the table and will take up more aggressive foreign policy. There are no more pretences that there are just nuclear security concerns, but that there is actual intent to halt constructions. Otherwise, as all documents show, if it is constructed, there will be attempts to limit electricity flows between Lithuania and Belarus. Since things are transitioning from nuclear security to outright obstruction, it is early to say that our neighbours won’t support us at all. In this case there will be need for separate agreements and separate negotiations.

Belarussian politicians can find no solution

Last Tuesday Belarussian opposition representatives visited the Lithuanian Seimas and discussed potential joint decisions. One of the opposition leaders, Anatoly Lebedko claims that the more time passes from the start of the Astravyets project, the fewer people protest against it.

“Personally I doubt that projects costing tens of billions, that they can be halted. This is because certain individuals are overly interested in obtaining those funds. The Belarussian opposition has many opinions, however we have agreed that it should not be built [the NPP]. For now there are no fresh ideas what to do in order to halt it. I can for now honestly say that the more time that passes, the fewer people protest against Astravyets. Perhaps we are doing something insufficiently, it is difficult and our resources are small. It is not a Belarussian project, but a Russian one and this only shortens the leash which Putin uses to bring Lukashenko closer to himself. We should think about solutions right now,” the Belarussian politician says, adding that “The reactor being built right now is a serious breach and the consequences can be most dire. We have to seriously give thought and pressure Lukashenko to halt the construction.”

The politician could not propose a plan of action however. Nevertheless he notes that the solution needs to be worked out jointly. “The Astravyets power plant has the same generator as that in Voronezh NPP. Said generator malfunctioned in a month, it would appear the project is totally experimental. We need to think up joint steps in an effort to halt the construction. This is a problem and it needs to somehow be resolved. However how this should be done we do not know. It is a political question in Belarus; there is no economic purpose, there are constant incidents there, the reactor was dropped, just these things show that there could be a significant impact and radiation leaks. Water for cooling will be taken from the Neris, it will reach Vilnius. We have to resolve it together. We have to do something,” Lebedko says.

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