EU Calls on Belarus Not to Rush to Start Up New Nuclear Plant

The European Union’s energy chief urged Belarus not to take risks by rushing into the start up of a new nuclear plant until further safety checks had been carried out, underlining political tensions between the near neighbors.

Safety at the Astravets plant moved to the top of the EU political agenda as Belarus made preparations to start commercial operations at the unit, expected toward the end of March. The European Parliament last month demanded the startup be delayed until all recommended improvements from safety officials are in place.

The European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group said in an interim assessment that Belarus made progress on addressing key concerns at the plant, which is located close to the border of EU member Lithuania. A full report will be compiled after a further peer review later this year, and will focus on the EU’s remaining recommendations.

“While the commissioning of the plant is a sovereign decision for Belarus, it would contribute to confidence building and trust if further decisions would be taken after the completion of the peer-review and once necessary safety improvements are in place,” Kadri Simson, the EU Energy Commissioner, said in a letter to Belarus Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko. “It is of great importance to avoid any rushed processes or unnecessary safety risks.”

The ENSREG peer review follows stress-tests at the plant a few years ago. Belarus’s participation in the EU assessment -- devised after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 -- is voluntary. The prime minister’s spokeswoman Alexandra Isaeva didn’t return calls for a comment.

The Astravets site is just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, and the country has urged the EU to ensure all the safety recommendations are enforced.

“In the European Commission’s view, all ENSREG recommendations are safety significant and should be implemented without delay,” Simson said in the letter, dated March 10 and seen by Bloomberg News.

The EU energy chief asked Golovchenko to confirm Belarus cooperation on the peer-review and agree to organize the second phase of the assessment, including a site visit, as soon as possible.

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