Lithuania opposes the dangerous construction on its border.
By the end of February, Rosatom and the Ministry of Energy of Belarus should decide on the deadlines for completing the work at the first unit of the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant. Meanwhile, the tangle of disagreement among the allies in this project is only growing. The BelNPP is also problematic for building relations along the Minsk – Brussels line, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
“By the end of February, it was entrusted to all those responsible (both Rosatom and our Ministry of Energy) to set the final schedule for completing the work on the first block,” the First Deputy Prime Minister of the Belarusian Government Dzmitry Kruty told reporters about the course of negotiations between Belarus and Russia regarding the implementation of the construction project of the Belarusian NPP. “Today, it is probably the most significant joint integration project,” the official said.
“This year we have a task to ensure the delivery of nuclear fuel, to launch launch the first power unit physically and energetically, that is, to deliver the first kilowatt hours to the power system,” said Minister of Energy Viktar Karankevich, speaking about the construction plans.
The timing of the project is its first priority problem. The terms were postponed many times, and even at the moment no one can say exactly when the first block will work. So, in early 2019, the BelNPP Director General Mikhail Filimonau said that the physical launch of the first power unit is planned for autumn 2019.
In early October, he already said that this would happen in January 2020, and in December nuclear fuel would be delivered to the station. According to experts, at least a month should pass between the delivery of nuclear fuel and the physical launch. It is already January, and nothing has been heard about the delivery of fuel.
And this is not the first year when the deadlines are shifted. Back in 2016, they were moved because of the fall of the reactor vessel during installation - the Belarusian side demanded that it must be replaced, and this took time. “So far, the launch of the first block has been postponed for as much as a year. I’m afraid, as the controllers inform me, that maybe Russia will ask for another shift of this term, which is generally unacceptable,” Lukashenka resented in September 2018.
Important to note, the BelNPP is built on the funds from a Russian loan, and it’s quite expensive. The current loan rate of $ 10 billion for Belarus is a fixed 5.23% per annum for half of the selected funds, and a six-month LIBOR in dollars (now 1.72%) plus 1.83% per annum for another.
Minsk considered that the bad faith of contractors who violate the deadlines is sufficient reason to negotiate a change in the terms of the loan. The authorities said that Russia provides similar loans to other countries at 3% per annum, and experts calculated that no more than $ 7 billion would be needed for construction. As a compensation for the delay in delivery, Minsk was ready to accept a reduction in the interest rates to the level of other countries, and an increase in the repayment period loan from 25 to 35 years.
Negotiations on this topic, like many others in the past year, have been fruitless. Last week, Lukashenka said that Minsk offers Moscow two options for solving the problem: “Either we impose sanctions for late payments, or they move on credit.” “The Russians were supposed to launch the first block in 2018, the second in 2019, but they missed the deadlines, and there are huge penalties for that,” Lukashenka said. At the same time, he said that the proposal “did not cause rejection” of Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, the very next day, this proposal caused a “rejection” of the Deputy Minister of Finance of Russia Sergey Storchak. He said that the simultaneous lengthening of the period of use of credit funds, and a decrease in the interest rate “does not correspond to financial theory.”
Meanwhile, due to the construction of a nuclear power plant, Belarus is also in conflict with its Western neighbor, Lithuania. Moreover, as the deadline for putting the facility into operation approaches, Vilnius threatens to involve the entire EU in the conflict. Last weekend, a congress of activists against the BelNPP was held in the Lithuanian capital. In particular, they are preparing a petition to the European Parliament, in which they intend to demand from the European institutions a tougher stance on the BelNPP issue.
According to the results of this event, Belarusian participants in Lithuania say that the station is a threat not only to Lithuania, but to the whole of Europe. They propose considering this object as an instrument of the Russian pressure on Belarus, as the geopolitical choice of Belarus: the station and Russia, or the freezing of the construction site and Europe. At the congress, proposals were made to help Belarus pay Russia for the work already done, so that it would decide to stop construction.
“The construction of the Belarusian NPP is not a problem of Lithuania alone, and not only a problem of Latvia and Poland. This is the problem of the entire European Union,” said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda in January.