Lithuania pans Russian, Belarusian nuclear plans

By bne IntelliNews May 30, 2012

Mike Collier in Riga -

Lithuania upped the ante in its nuclear wrangles with neighbouring Russia and Belarus on May 28 when Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis launched a forthright condemnation of plans to build two nuclear power plants close to Lithuania's borders, alleging sub-standard safety, regulatory and environmental procedures and accident cover-ups at these and other plants being built in Russia.

Speaking in Riga after talks with his Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevics, Azubalis didn't mince his words, saying he suspected both Russia and Belarus were "bypassing international safety and environmental standards". "This is not just an issue for Lithuania... it should be a matter of concern to all countries in this region," Azubalis said. "We should do everything possible to make these two projects develop according to international standards - it is vital."

Asked by bne what proof Lithuania had concerning the safety of the Russian and Belarusian projects, Azubalis said: "Our questions regarding these nuclear power plant projects have real grounds... I'm not going to explain in detail what's wrong now, but the sites were chosen for these two plants in violation of the International Atomic Energy Agency requirements."

He promised to provide more information - and was true to his word, because just minutes later an aide handed bne a Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs document containing detailed critiques of the two nuclear projects.

Safety fears

According to Lithuanian government experts, the Belarus project, which will be just 50 kilometres from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, has "No comprehensive seismic safety assessment", "No genuinely independent and capable regulator", and "No emergency preparedness and contingency planning".

As regards Russia's Kaliningrad project a few kilometres from Lithuania's western border, the alleged faults include: "No interconnections with potential markets", "No environmental impact assessment of spent nuclear fuel transportation to nuclear waste repository in Sosnovyi Bor, near St Petersburg", and "Possible act of terrorism neglected - containment building not designed to withstand heavy aircraft crash."

And that's not all - the document also alleges a Russian cover-up of a recent accident at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant II (NPP-2), which is currently under construction, saying that, "the mounted fixtures of [the] containment building collapsed. Such information has not been proclaimed in Russia officially."

No date is given in the Lithuanian document for this alleged incident, but bne's own investigation (see photos) found that it was on July 17. A source close to the principal contractor St Petersburg-based AtomEnergoProekt (SPb AEP) said the cause of the accident was "due to bungling and incompetence", and violations over the design and construction technology. It was only by chance that there weren't any casualties, as a few minutes before the collapse the construction workers had left to go to lunch.

For the Lithuanians' part, the "fallen structure in Leningrad NPP-2 as well as lack of attention to possible aircraft crash or act of terrorism cannot be accepted because the containment building has to be designed to withstand any possible external impact as well as to contain possible radiation from the reactor itself."

Other nuclear fears outlined in the Lithuanian government document include the possibility of an earthquake near the Belarusian site (a large one was recorded nearby in 1908) and the contamination of the Baltic Sea if something goes wrong when spent fuel rods are being transported hundreds of kilometres by ship from Kaliningrad to the huge Sosnovyi Bor waste facility - which is being built by the same companies responsible for Leningrad NPP-2 and are, therefore, notable for "mistakes, lack of quality, lack of competent staff, etc."

Lithuania and Latvia, together with Estonia and Japanese company Hitachi, have plans of their own to construct a replacement to the decommissioned Ignalina nuclear power plant at Visaginas, which is near the border with Belarus.

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