VILNIUS – By offering Belarus to turn the Astravyet's nuclear power plant, under construction in Belarus, into a natural gas power plant, Lithuania would not only ensure greater security but also contribute to the improvement of bilateral relations, Lithuania's Energy Minister Zygimantas Vaiciunas says.
In his words, criticized by energy experts and the public, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis' proposed idea in fact has a precedent as Belarus stopped the construction of a nuclear power plant near Minsk last century and converted it into a gas power plant.
The energy minister says that the facility can be converted before it comes online after Espoo Convention countries concluded in February that Minsk violated the convention when choosing the Astravyets construction site. Lithuania should use this decision for its own benefit, the minister says.
"There are practically no legal instruments to make Belarus not to launch the power plant. If it's launched, then this violation will accompany Belarus through the power plant's whole cycle of operation. It means that this facility will overshadow Lithuanian-Belarusian relations for at least 60 years. (…) This is already a political proposal and an opportunity for Belarus to "grasp at a straw" at the final moment and think carefully if they are going in the right direction and whether it's worth it to increase their dependence on Russia," Vaiciunas told BNS Lithuania after failing to comment on Skvernelis' proposal on Monday and last week.
The minister reiterated that Lithuania does not back down on its previous position on the Aastravyets nuclear facility, adding that experts from the Energy Ministry also took part in the proposal's deliberation.
"Speaking about specific technical solutions, Belarus has had such cases itself. Back in 1983, a nuclear power plant was under construction near Minsk, some 25 kilometers away from the Minsk border. (…) Then, after the Chernobyl tragedy, it changed its mind due to the vicinity to Minsk, and the nuclear facility was converted into a natural gas power plant. (…). This very case in Belarus shows that it's not a technically impossible thing," Vaiciunas said.
However, Jurgis Vilemas, former head of the Lithuanian Energy Institute and a nuclear energy specialist, believes the prime minister's proposal is absurd, saying that it's too late to stop the he Astravyets project. Besides, he believes it to be a safe nuclear power plant, according to the 15min.lt news website.
"To make a gas turbine? It cannot be. This is absolutely unreal. No equipment, now existing at the nuclear power plant, is suitable for that purpose. These are completely different turbines, inadaptable. All the more so, everything is installed there and buildings are completed," Vilemas told the website.
Former Energy Minister Arvydas Sekmokas has also told the national broadcaster LRT that the prime minister's proposal on Astravyets is unrealistic and surprising. He compared it to a proposal to turn a steamboat into a submarine.
Vaiciunas told BNS Lithuania the Lithuanian proposal would soon be officially presented to Minsk.
Lithuania's position is that the Astravyets nuclear power plant is being constructed unsafely and in violation of international commitments, which Minsk denies.