As Belarus nears completing construction of a nuclear power plant just 50 kilometers away from Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, fears are growing of the threat of a nuclear catastrophe. In protest, the Lithuanian government has accused Minsk of violating international safety obligations and taken action to secure its population in the case of an emergency.
The Lithuanian Ministry of Health has announced plans to purchase 4 million iodine tablets in case of the power plant’s failure and a subsequent disaster. The iodine tablet purchase is only one of the Lithuanian government’s measures to act in the case of a nuclear emergency stemming from the power plant in Astravets.
The official government plan foresees an evacuation of thousands of citizens from the Lithuanian-Belarusian border in the region most threatened by the power plant, as well as other precautionary actions within a 100-kilometer radius.
The Belarusian power plant, which is to be completed in December 2019, is being constructed approximately 20 kilometers from the border and based on the Russian AES-2006 nuclear design. Each energy block with the nuclear power plant will be comprised of a reactor that can generate 1,200 megawatts of power.
In early 2019, a commission met in Geneva to ensure the nuclear project met obligations for the Espoo Convention. Commission members declared that when construction for the power plant began, Belarus had not supplied sufficient information which would explain the choice of Astravets as the location for the structure.
The Espoo Convention is an international agreement designed to evaluate the environmental impact of large-scale projects in a cross-border context. Its signatories have pledged to evaluate the impact of new projects on the environment, as well as informing and consulting each other.
In a region where the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster still looms large, there is an especially deep fear of the consequences of constructing nuclear power plants. The disaster in Ukraine released massive amounts of radiation across Europe and led to the evacuation of over 100,000 people.