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Lithuanian PM‘s «plan-hooligan» on Belarus‘ NPP remake thumbed down

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The Lithuanian prime minister‘s plan to transform a nearly-ready-to-use nuclear power plant in Belarus’ Astravyets, just a mere 50 kilometres from Lithuanian capital Vilnius, to an innocuous gas-fired heat and power plant has crashed and burned.

Belarus has shrugged off the idea, emphasising that it, not Lithuania can decide what kind of a power generator to build on its land.

It just can be guessed if the Lithuanian PM’s plan on the remake of the Belarus plant was a serious intent or an outrageous publicity stunt in attempt to boost the ratings ahead of the country’s presidential election on May 12.

In a written response to Baltic News Network (BNN), Žana Zenkevič, head of Communications of the Belarusian Ministry of Energy, said that the ministry has not received any letter from the Lithuanian prime minister.

«We did not receive it. As far as I am informed, neither our Government», says the response.

Speaking to Belarus’, Vasilij Poliuchovič, director of the Nuclear Energy Department at the Belarusian ministry of Energy, said that it doesn’t «make sense» for him to convert the existing infrastructure in Astravyets into a gas-fired power facility.

«We see the plant as one serving our own interests, one ensuring the electricity supply and diversification of our energy sources…As we currently produce ca 95 percent of electricity from gas-fired plants, it just doesn’t make sense to change anything in the regard,» he added.

Skvernelis revealed his eye and ear-catchy idea on his trip to the Kėdainiai region in early March. Acknowledging the strategic economic importance of the neighbour – it is estimated that ca 10 percent of Lithuania’s budget is produced by Klaipėda seaport-related firms, of which the Klaipėda Brittle Cargo Terminal, a major firm in the port, is co-owned by Belarus – he cautioned that the contested construction of the Astravyets NPP sours the otherwise neighbourly relations.

«There is one issue preventing us from collaborating with Belarus on the highest level. I mean the Astravyets nuclear power plant which is completed and which had to be halted when it was possible to do it…What can we do now? We (in the government) have got a plan-hooligan, which, if implemented, could reverse things. I will propose Belarusians a solution, a rational one. Makes sure: not one demanding to close the facility,» Skvernelis said in Kėdainiai.

Soon thereafter he proposed to converse the Astravyets facility from a nuclear power plant to a gas-fired power plant.

Although Lithuania’s Energy ministry hurried to back up Skvernelis’ plan as «feasible», premier was subjected to a good deal of lambasting on social media and by energy experts.

Most of the commentators concurred that Skvernelis, falling behind the frontrunner, economist Gitanas Nausėda and Ingrida Šimonytė, a MP, in the presidential polls, is desperate to catch up with the two and thus make it to the second round of the election.

«Do not think that prime minister just came up with the idea and blurted it out. It has been discussed. Speaking of the plan, there are concrete cases, like that in the United States, when a to-be nuclear power plant has been converted into a gas-fired power plant,» Devidas Matulionis, vice-chancellor of Lithuanian government’s chancellery, said on a TV programme.

According to the government statement, if Belarus abandoned the Astravyets project, more than 60 percent of its infrastructure could be used for a gas-fuelled heat and power plant.

According to Lithuanian government, Skvernelis signed the letter to his Belarusian counterpart, Sergey Rumas.

Arvydas Sekmokas, former Energy minister and now an independent energy expert, ponders that Skvernelis’s proposal has not been discussed at all, especially on a larger scale.

«There should be probably a couple of explanations for the proposal. First, it is all about the presidential elections, I firmly believe. But I cannot rule out that it has to do with the ongoing reconstruction of the Ignalina-Utena power substation which is key to ensuring electricity flows to the Astravyets power plant. Who can deny that with our prime minister’s proposal rejected (by Belarus), he will start pushing forward the idea of purchasing the electricity from Astravyets. I think the possibility cannot be ruled out,» Arvydas Sekmokas, told BNN.

However, Matulionis insisted that it has never been in the Government‘s plans and claimed that reconstruction of the power substation is needed for the ongoing synchronisation of the Baltic power grids with the European network.

«The power line connecting Lithuania and Belarus through the Ignalina- Utena station will soon be disconnected,» Matulionis assured.

Both agreed that Belarus needs to be «made» understand that the Astravyets nuclear power facility has «no future» if the closest neighbours, including Lithuania, do not purchase its electricity.

Lithuania has been criticising the Astravyets nuclear facility, being constructed by Russia’s Rosatom for many years. Its first reactor is due to come online later this year, with the second reactor’s launch scheduled for 2020. Lithuanias ought to block the Belarusian project at the EU level but has failed to secure support from EU institutions and other countries.

Until now, only Poland and Estonia have said they will not purchase the Astravyets NPP’s generation. Meanwhile, Latvia was hesitant, largely due to its large volume of trade with Belarus.

Latvia’s new prime minister, Krišjanis Kariņš, who visited Vilnius last Friday, said standing alongside with Skvernelis that the Belarusians need to decide themselves what to do with the Astravyets nuclear power plant.

«If they want, they can do that. Will Belarus do that is another question and the Belarusian themselves should speak about that,» he said.«Whatever Belarus plans to do with this plant, it’s the hand of the Belarusians… I am well aware of the Lithuanian Seimas’ adopted law banning the purchase of power produced in Astravyets.»

«From the Latvian side, we support a common Baltic solution, just like the one on gas sales…There are various models in the world, there’s the Finnish model on how they purchase from Russia, and this is the direction we could consider,» the Latvian prime minister was quoted as saying.

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