Astravets nuclear power plant – so many questions, so little answers2016-02-23
The response of Belarus to the concerns voiced not only by our country but also by the international community over the safety of the nuclear power plant that is being built in Astravets, located near the Lithuanian frontier, merely 50 km from Vilnius, will be revealed in the meeting of the Implementation Committee of the Espoo Convention to be held in Geneva on 15 March. The representatives from both Lithuania and Belarus will attend the meeting.
“Our country has sufficient grounds for the concern that the Astravets NPP might be unsafe. It is already hard to count all the questions that we have posed to Belarus regarding the potential environmental impact of this nuclear power plant. Even though the Espoo Convention provides for an obligation to reply to them there are still too many questions left unanswered and only few answers have been provided so far”, says Kęstutis Trečiokas, Minister of Environment.
It was back in 2011 that the Ministry of Environment representing the State of Lithuania filed a complaint with the Implementation Committee of the Espoo Convention stating that Belarus had violated this United Nations Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context. It is the main international document obliging neighbouring countries to cooperate on matters related to the construction of a NPP, namely, to provide information, to familiarise the public of neighbouring countries with the project, and to organise expert consultations.
In 2013, the Implementation Committee of the Espoo Convention presented its conclusions confirming that Belarus had violated this Convention. They have been approved in the meeting of the Parties to the Espoo Convention. During this meeting, the recommendations for the rectification of the situation were provided. It will become clear how they have been implemented during the meeting of the Implementation Committee to be held on 15 March.
Disregarding the objections voiced by Lithuania and the conclusions and recommendations of the meeting of the Parties to the Espoo Convention to further continue the potential environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the Astravets NPP so that the questions posed by our country are answered, Belarus claimed that the EIA process has been completed. Therefore, the Ministry of Environment filed a complaint on behalf of Lithuania with the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in March 2015.
Our country is still waiting for an answer why Belarus, being able to choose from over 70 available site options for the construction of a NPP, chose Astravets. It did not provide any information whether any modern seismic investigations had been carried out, even though there were four moderate earthquakes recorded in the area, where the nuclear power plant is being built, in 1887–1908. The answer regarding the potential impact of the NPP on the Neris River, the surrounding areas and residents has not been provided yet. The contamination of the Neris with radioactive waste would pose a threat to the supply of drinking water to a large number of Lithuanian residents.
There is also a question-mark about the emergency response plans, particularly, the evacuation of Vilnius city in case of a major accident in the Astravets NPP. The questions regarding spent nuclear fuel, radioactive waste management, etc. are still left unanswered.
23 February 2016