Liudas Mažylis on the danger of Astravyets: We have only one destiny – to be united

The opening of the first Astravyets nuclear power plant reactor is scheduled for the beginning of this year. At the same time, a movement against the power plant is being established in Lithuania. On the eve of Lithuania’s birthday, on January 15, the movement’s first rally against this project took place in February. According to the organisers, it is not to too late to act in unison and say ‘no’, the EPP Lithuanian press bureau reported.

Member of the European Parliament, Professor Liudas Mažylis also submitted an application to become a member of the Astravyets Movement. He is definite about Astravyets because he sees it as a major threat to the functioning of Lithuania. According to the professor, there is no time for doubts, clichés, and politicisation. It is important to act together immediately.

EPP Lithuanian office
EPP Lithuanian

The first rally of the Movement Against Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant took place in Parliament on the 15th of February. Did you participate in it?

Of course, I did! When I heard about the Astravyets plans, I realised it is a project hostile to Lithuania. Firstly, the power plant is just a few dozen kilometres away from Lithuania’s border, from Vilnius.

Secondly, there are many discussion starting around the fact that the same construction company Rosatom is also preparing nuclear power plant projects in other European countries. However, construction progress is being hampered by high construction and safety standards being demanded there. It is essential to mention in this instance that there is a vast gulf between the construction process in Belarus and other countries.

Belarus is not a democratic country. I am a member of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with Belarus, and therefore understand the complicated situation of the country. There is still no sign of democratic values being present in any form. In this instance, Belarus is building the nuclear power plant willingly, while Lithuania is getting an unwanted ‘gift’.

Thirdly, we can also assume that the location for the construction of Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant was not chosen coincidentally. It is a geopolitical move. Rosatom is Russia’s national atomic energy corporation. Russia is giving Belarus 10 bln in aid to push the Astravyets project forward. In other words, this is a political decision, and the nuclear threat can be used as political pressure in international relations at a later date.

Fourthly, it is frightening to consider how everything would look in case of a disaster. The functioning of the entire state would be crippled, a major part of the population of Lithuania would suffer, the public sector and economy would be paralysed.

Finally, the fifth point is that river Neris would fall into the risk zone, and through it, downstream river Nemunas. Of course, many will ask if this is raising the alarm before the event happened. However, as a chemist currently working in the European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, I am categorical, responding to a question with a question. Who will ensure that even if there is no disaster, we will avoid the impact of radiation? Besides, even fictitious news about radioactive leaks has an impact!

When did you become interested in links between energy and politics?

Indeed since the Chernobyl incident. Perhaps even since the Soviet era when during our studies in the military department, we were forced to study the impact of radiation on human beings and model military action during a nuclear explosion. Trust me; it was a grave matter.

I have been exploring the link between nuclear energy and politics since 2008 when I analysed the referendum on closing the Ignalina nuclear power plant. One could say we ended up on a Lithuanian Brexit-type edge – a provision could have been rejected in a referendum!  Then again, in 2012 people rejected in another referendum the plan to build a modern, controlled and safe nuclear power plant. Then on 16 February 2017, we heard the words of professor Vytautas Landsbergis, being spoken from the balcony of the House of Signatories: “Astravyets is violence”. Ninety-nine years have passed since the restoration of our state. Thus, step by step, resistance was building up against the Astravyets project. I spoke about this in 2019 at our Party Council and kept the publication Astravo Grabas [Astravyets’ Grave] on my desk in Brussels. I recently showed it to Taiwan’s ambassador when we spoke about the coronavirus. The world is full of dangers…

Is Europe unified around this question? What about Lithuania?

I am disappointed. There is no unified position neither in Europe, nor Lithuania. You can follow the votes in the European Parliament, get acquainted with the faces of those who promote nuclear power as a ‘lesser evil’ and put forward respective amendments to resolutions on this. And who benefits? Who is building nuclear power plants in the various European states? The same Rosatom, controlled by the Kremlin. Other countries have at least some leverage! On the other hand, Astravyets is being built outside the borders of the European Union. In case of an accident, we would demand compensation through Belarus’ courts, seeking to claim damages from the country’s people, who are only guilty of the fact that the monster is being built on their land.

You mentioned accidents. Is there a high probability that an accident would happen?

I think this question can be answered only by our grandchildren. Chernobyl was plenty for my generation. Would we wish such a scenario for our countrymen and loved ones? The nation, just like life, should be cherished and not lived in fear.

But there are already signals from the government, and not just individual ministers, that we will boycott the purchase of the energy generated in Astravyets.

I sometimes think irrationally: we are being given signs by providence. During the Alytus blaze, during the Grigeo scandal… Then I think that everything is much more down to earth. Lithuanian government structures have realised how much effort and resources the management of such a localised catastrophe would consume. However, an accident in Astravyets would not be localised. It would be much more global and tragic compared to the ones we have experienced. Of course, Lithuania should not just have a strategy concerning Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant, where facts and positions will be laid out. In my opinion, collaboration with neighbouring states, such as Latvia, Estonia, and Poland, is key to tackling the Astravyets project.

There are, of course, some positive news. According to Lithuania’s energy minister, there are ongoing talks with the Baltic States on how to ensure that energy produced in Belarus does not reach our markets. Lithuania and Poland have already taken the decision not to allow any electricity from Belarus if the Astravyets plant is launched although it would be better if they did not launch it at all.

Why is it that experts, who portray themselves as experienced, do not feel the dangers of the Astravyets project?

In reality, everyone understands the danger and acknowledges it. From here on, I will think like a political scientist and say that in politics, it is usual to believe that any political project is a product of the mind. A discussion around general politics is created. But the Astravyets question is inherently different.

This specific situation needs to be comprehended physically: there is an unsafe monster standing next to Vilnius. This topic, in my view, does not deserve to be politicised or cause confrontation. This is an exceptional situation. We have only one destiny – to be united. The location for the Astravyets plant has been chosen incorrectly; there were mistakes made during the building process. In early February, the traditional national security threat report published by the State Security Department and the Second Investigation Department stated that Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant was installed without regard to international safety standards. The report also says that in June last year, there was a fire in the first block of the reactor due to the builders’ carelessness. Does this not remind you of Chernobyl? What can we do?

We can bring together the mass of people that understand this as a physical threat. We should not apply sociological clichés to this situation – the majority does not have an opinion, or that it disagrees only in part. When bites you, you do not have a lot of choices. You can be positive and hope it is not rabid. You could also go and get treated. You will not die ‘in part’ but in full one hundred per cent, because you cannot be ‘partially rabid’ and the disease is always deadly.

The Astravyets reactor is not safe for humanity. I have already submitted questions that the European Parliament must reply to in writing, and started a procedure regarding the European Commission on the implementation of the recommendations on nuclear safety. I am waiting for responses whether the implementation of the submitted recommendations is being monitored, what will be done if the safety standards are not implemented  before the opening of the plant, and what is the Commission’s plan in case of an accident. Lithuania needs answers, which I will inform you of.

So the meeting in the Parliament will be the first public manifestation of this movement? The first major one. It is vital that the veil of silence is torn open.

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