Belarus’ Russian-built nuclear power plant leak in February 2022 reported

Belarus’ Russian-built nuclear power plant leak in February 2022 reported
Belarus’ Russian-built nuclear power plant leak in February 2022 reported / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews January 1, 2024

Leaked documents seen by Bloomberg suggest that there was an incident at Belarus’ Russian-built Ostrovets (aka Astravets in Lithuanian) nuclear power plant (NPP) in February 2022

The documents detail a safety incident at Ostrovets NPP, raising concerns about the plant's operational integrity. The documents, sourced from Rosatom, the Russian nuclear giant, indicate a problem involving a leak of ion-exchange resin into the primary reactor circuit during a test run of the plant's second 1,200-MW reactor.

According to the report, on February 25, 2022, engineers discovered the resin, responsible for maintaining water purity in the cooling systems, seeping into the main circuit. This raised fears of a potential loss of reactor control and the risk of a meltdown in a repeat of the Chernobyl reactor in 1986 that affected all of Europe. The Ostrovets incident led to a suspension of the test run, delaying the commercial operation of the reactor by over a year, as bne IntelliNews reported at the time.

This is not the first time that safety problems have been reported at Ostrovets, which both Rosatom and Minsk have denied.

Vilnius strenuously objected to the construction of Ostrovets, which is located on Belarus’ western border and only 50 km from the Lithuanian capital, over fears of a nuclear accident that would affect the entire country and beyond. The government has issued the population with iodine pills, as a precautionary measure, a common treatment for those exposed to radioactive materials.

Lukashenko commissioned the NPP in the hope of reducing his own dependence on imported Russian gas and of exporting electricity to his Baltic neighbours. The giant 1.2-GW water-water energetic reactor (VVER) power plant produces far more power than Belarus needs. Russia has been actively exporting its nuclear power technology and currently has some 40 NPP projects under various stages of construction around the world.

Lithuania responded by saying it would not buy power from Belarus, but ironically in the cold 2021 winter Ukraine and Lithuania imported record amounts of power from Belarus.

Despite the severity of the February incident it was not reported to international nuclear safety authorities, Bloomberg reports. Lithuanian Intelligence had previously flagged a water contamination incident at the Belarusian NPP on March 9, drawing attention to additional concerns about cracks detected in unit 1.

Rosatom has refuted claims of reportable incidents during the commissioning of the plant, asserting that it does not operate the facility and thus bears no responsibility for communication with the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) on behalf of Ostrovets. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov downplayed the incident as well, saying it had occurred during the pre-commissioning stage and should not be considered an emergency.

Belarus' Deputy Energy Minister Mikhail Mikhadyuk dismissed the accusations, labelling them as "another attempt to discredit and generally denigrate our joint project with the Russian Federation." Nuclear engineers are studying whether the leakage resulted from operational errors or whether it exposes inherent flaws in the design of the VVER-1200 units, one of the most advanced designs in the world that were developed after the Chernobyl accident.

While the resin leakage itself might not have been disastrous, according to a source in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it adds to a series of problems at the Belarusian NPP. European officials suggest the leaked documents might reveal labour shortages and supply chain issues at the plant, Kyiv Independent reports.

The plant has suffered from a string of operational problems, transformer failures and reported tank implosions that have unsettled Belarus’ western neighbours.