The presentation of the Astravyets nuclear plant project planned in Belarus on Saturday cannot be considered a public discussion by international standards, says the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.
Gitana Grigaityte, director of the ministry’s Economic Security Policy Department, says Belarus has not yet answered key questions sent by Lithuania in connection to the power plant, although the United Nations (UN) Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo) requires answers by the start of public debates.
Grigaityte said Lithuania finds unacceptable the fact that the event is held in the Belarusian territory, which makes it impossible for Lithuanian society to attend.
“In Lithuania’s opinion, Belarus has not answered key questions from Lithuania,” she said.
According to Grigaityte, Minsk has not provided a proper explanation of the choice of the Astravyets construction site, situated merely 50km from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.
Lithuania has not received answers in connection to Belarus’ failure to carry out seismologic tests, although severe earthquakes were registered in the territory in late 1800s and early 1900s, said the diplomat.
Lithuania is also expecting answers about cooling of the nuclear reactor , as under Belarusian design, the reactor should be cooled with water from the River Neris although the site is above river level and 10km away from the river, thus increasing the probability of malfunction of the cooling system.
“We believe that jumping to the next phase of the Espoo Convention and organising public hearings is a hasty and unilateral action on the Belarusian side,” said the head of the department.
Grigaityte recalled that the Espoo Convention Implementation Committee concluded in Geneva in April that “Belarus has violated the Espoo Convention, Lithuania’s demands are grounded and Belarus must respond to the Lithuanian inquiries.”
“The event is organised on Belarusian territory, although Belarus has announced it is intended for Lithuanian society. We believe it restricts the participation of Lithuanian society, and raises questions about the compliance of the event to the Espoo Convention,” Grigaityte further commented.
Earlier this week, the Belarusian Embassy in Vilnius published invitations in the Lithuanian media, inviting Lithuanian citizens to a discussion about the environmental impacts of the power plant.
According to the ads, travel to the event will be free. Lithuanian media was also invited to the event.
Saturday’s event sparked diplomatic clashes last month.
Shortly after the event was announced, the Belarusian ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Vilnius and told that “such a decision runs counter to the provisions of the Espoo Convention, restricts the participation of Lithuanian citizens in the events of this kind and does not add constructiveness to the Lithuanian-Belarusian dialogue on the issue of the safety of Astravyets nuclear power plant.“
In response, Minsk shortly summoned Lithuanian Ambassador Evaldas Ignatavicius and “expressed concern” over what Minsk said was “non-constructive attitude” towards the Belarusian proposal to hold discussions on the environmental impact assessment.
Belarus maintains it operates in line with the convention, accusing Lithuania of breaching the spirit of good neighbourhood by ignoring the Belarusian proposals.
The nuclear power plant in Astravyets will be built by Russian company Rosatom.
Belarus plans to have the utility operational in 2020.