VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — The Baltic nation of Lithuania sent a protest note Tuesday to Belarus over a planned nuclear power plant close to their border that is scheduled to start operating in early November.
The Astravyets nuclear power plant, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, is to start production between Nov. 1-10, Belarusian operator Belenergo told Lithuania’s power transmission system operator Litgrid on Monday.
“We are categorically against such a hasty launch,” said Asta Skaisgiryte, an adviser to the Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. She confirmed the note had been sent.
Nauseda said during a news conference in Helsinki almost a year ago that the construction of Astravyets had been plagued by accidents, stolen materials and the mistreatment of workers. The plant is being financed and constructed by Russia nuclear giant Rosatom, which rejected the president’s allegations and said its design conformed to the highest international standards.
The power plant’s construction was delayed when the reactor’s hull slipped to the ground in July 2016 after workers failed to strap it properly during installation. Rosatom insisted at the time that the reactor wasn’t damaged, but it agreed to replace the unit at the demand of Belarusian authorities.
Belarus suffered severe damage from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which spewed radioactive fallout from a plant in then-Soviet Ukraine across large areas. The painful legacy that fueled opposition to the nuclear plant project in Belarus.
In recent weeks, Lithuanian residents living near the Belarus border have been supplied with free iodine pills and evacuation drills have been held. The pills, which can help reduce radiation build-up in the thyroid, are in case of a radiation leak at Astravets.
Lithuania closed its sole nuclear power plant in 2009 and has forbidden the purchase of energy from Belarus.
The two former Soviet republics are already at odds after the Aug. 9 presidential election in Belarus that opposition members and Lithuanian officials say was rigged. The southernmost Baltic country has given refuge to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger in the election that handed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term after 26 years of authoritarian rule.
This story was first published on October 27, 2020. It was updated on October 30, 2020 to make clear that Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda claimed during a Nov. 5, 2019 news conference that the construction of a nuclear power plant in Belarus was plagued by accidents and other problems. It also includes that Russian nuclear giant Rosatom, which is building and financing the plant, denied the allegations.