Fuss over nuclear issues in the region and possible threats

By Vaiva Sapetkaitė

„We are fighting. You know that today nobody uses weapons or tanks in these latitudes. The struggle is for energy, through energy and via propaganda. Remember, when Lithuania started developing Visaginas nuclear power plant (NPP) project, immediately the two new nuclear power plant projects emerged in the neighborhood of Lithuania“, said Rokas Žilinskas, Chairman of the Parliamentary Nuclear Energy Commission during the conference „Lithuania-Belarus: Nuclear Neighborhood“.


These two plants are: the Baltic NPP in Kaliningrad region and Astravets NPP in Belarus. Technical and operational parameters of both nuclear plants are similar for they are constructed by Russian companies: „Rosenergoatom“ in Kaliningrad region, and „Atomexport“ in Belarus. But the region‘s media and international institutions have several times indicated that these facilities do not comply with the international nuclear safety standards.


According to Rytas Staselis, a journalist from „Verslo žinios“, the editorial office of the business daily received the report of Russian experts on technical and economic terms of construction of the Baltic Nuclear Power Plan (BNPP) pursuant to which „construction of the BNPP has been launched and continues without a project; there are no proofs that actual engineering and geological surveys, the assessment of seismic risks at the site of the facility have been performed.” The report also says that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) has not been coordinated with the neighboring countries. Besides, BNPP construction site falls within the zone of an international air corridor adapted to low-altitude flights. Thus, construction of the Kaliningrad NPP contradicts the legislation of Russia which is the author of the NPP project and the contractor responsible for the security of NPP. Another disturbing factor is that BNPP is being constructed in a hurry by forgetting 75 percent of the worn out power transmission lines in Kaliningrad region.


All the above facilities are only 12 kilometers away from our border. Although in 2011 Lithuania handed in a note to Russia on construction of BNPP, this didn’t yield any tangible results.


A similar scenario could be observed in a more remote site, „even“ 20 kilometers away from Lithuanian border: although final technical terms for the Astrovets NPP have not yet been agreed, the construction is under way. During the above conference Rokas Žilinskas noted that, differently from the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) where the suitability of the construction sites was confirmed by IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), Belarus didn‘t do that, yet officially the country says that IAEA confirmed the suitability of the site. In fact, IAEA’s mission didn‘t confirm the suitability of potential sites for the construction of Astravets NPP; it confirmed only the infrastructure necessary for the development of this NPP. Besides, IAEA submitted 17 proposals and 25 recommendations but Belarusian authorities have made their content secret.


According to Linas Balsys, President of the Green Policy Institute, in pursuit of supply of a reliable energy, first of all we have to direct our efforts not toward an expensive project like Visaginas NPP, but to employ the power of diplomacy, influence of the EU and, consequently, prevent from constructing NPP in Kaliningrad region and Belarus. „We need a dialogue. Do we have a dialogue on energy issues with neighboring countries? I would say, it is very vague [...]“, said Linas Balsys.


According to him, if Visaginas and BNPP are constructed, we will automatically have to compete with the latter and face another danger: since Russia is fond of making political decisions based on a political logic, it is quite realistic that electricity produced in Kaliningrad would be sold for much lower price than that generated in Visaginas NPP. We couldn‘t do anything about this, since „in Lithuania there will always be private companies which will buy cheaper Russian energy and import it to Lithuania or export it via Lithuania to the West“. According to Linas Balsys, we cannot prohibit Russians to export its cheap energy through Lithuania, because international agreements oblige to provide transit, except one case: pursuant to the principle of positive discrimination, renewable energy sources have preferential right to transmission lines and links with Sweden and Poland. Thus, these sources should be developed.


Editor-in-Chief of the monthly „Valstybe“ Eduardas Eigirdas analyses Russia‘s influence on Lithuania‘s energy security in a different context. According to him, Russia acts in Lithuania through many companies, and if their business is related to Russian energy, it affects Lithuania‘s policy. „We have to admit the fact: if you work as a mediator with Mr.Putin and his companies, you should represent his interests because you will simply be eliminated from the list of mediators and you will not be able to do the work and make huge profits. Although we don‘t condemn such people, this doesn‘t mean that we shouldn‘t reduce the damage made to our state and try to disconnect from these relations [...].


According to Eduardas Eigirdas, in Russia gas is sold for much lower price than to Lithuania - quite a big share of energy generated with the help of cheap gas is later sold to our country, although theoretically for Russia it would be more beneficial to sell gas to Lithuania. The question is: why to construct a new NPP when Russia has so much gas and when energy generated from this gas covers a large part of Lithuanian market? „There is only one answer: this is a political action. It should „bind“ the infrastructure of our NPP which has a huge value. [...] I believe that Mr.Putin has put an eye on it“, said Eduardas Eigirdas.


He also highlighted that we shouldn‘t treat Visaginas NPP as something ideal but referred to this as a logical decision related to the future of the country.