MOSCOW (AP) – Belarus’ first nuclear power plant went into operation on Tuesday, prompting its neighbor Lithuania to immediately cut off electricity imports from Belarus.
Belarusian electric operator Belenerko says the Russian-built Astraweits nuclear power plant, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, has been connected to Belarus’ power plant to generate electricity.
Lithuanian officials have long opposed the construction of the plant, arguing that the project has been plagued by accidents, stolen goods and the mistreatment of workers. Lithuania’s Lidgrid power operator received information that Astroweets had begun generating nuclear reactor power by reducing the flow of electricity from Belarus, in accordance with the country’s law prohibiting the import of electricity from Belarus when the plant opened.
Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear company that built the plant, has denied Lithuanian complaints, saying the plant was designed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“It has a zero tolerance policy on corruption and an internal control system to ensure that any illegal or inappropriate practices are stopped and prosecuted,” the company said. It argued that the launch of the project would help reduce the region’s carbon emissions equivalent to 10 million tons of CO2 each year.
“We are working closely with the National Atomic Energy Agency of Belarus, the World Atomic Energy Operators Association and the European Union of European Nuclear Safety Regulators to ensure that there are no negligent risks or ‘security threats,” Rosadom told the Associated Press in a statement.
Construction of the power plant was delayed in July 2016 when the reactor shell fell to the ground due to workers failing to build it properly during installation. Rosatom insisted at the time that the reactor was not damaged, but it agreed to replace the unit at the request of Belarusian authorities.
Belarus suffered severe damage from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which triggered a radioactive fall on large parts of Europe from a plant in then-Soviet Ukraine. That painful legacy has sparked opposition to the nuclear plant project in Belarus.
Lithuania closed its only Soviet-built nuclear power plant in 2009 and banned the purchase of energy from Belarus.
In recent weeks, Lithuanian authorities have provided free iodine tablets to residents living near the Belarusian border. Iodine helps to reduce the radiation structure in the thyroid in case of radiation leakage.