News / Europe

    Nuclear Power Project Sparks Opposition in Belarus

    The control room and its damaged machinery is seen inside reactor No. 4 in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, November 2000 (file photo)
    The control room and its damaged machinery is seen inside reactor No. 4 in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, November 2000 (file photo)
    James Brooke

    In Belarus, the nation that most suffered from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, officials recently signed a deal for their first nuclear power plant from Russia. Despite the authoritarian government in Minsk, popular protest is bubbling.

    After an explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear complex, in what then was the Soviet republic of Ukraine, on the night of April 25, 1986, a northerly wind contaminated almost one-third of the territory that now is Belarus.

    With the 25th anniversary of the disaster fast approaching, painful memories are flooding back as Belarusians watch Japanese firefighters try to control fires and contamination at the Fukushima nuclear complex. In neighboring Ukraine, a newspaper headlined what many people thought - the Japanese Chernobyl”

    Russia's nuclear push

    Then came a second jolt. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew into Minsk on March 15 and oversaw the signing of a $9.4-billion nuclear power plant complex  - the first nuclear reactors for Belarus.

    Tatiana Novikova helps to run the Belarusian Anti-Nuclear campaign and she calls the power plant deal a provocation to a people who suffered the consequences of Chernobyl.

    But exporting nuclear power plants is a big business for Russia. In the face of bad news from Japan, Putin chose to aggressively promote nuclear power. On March 15, he offered a $4-billion loan to finance a Russian nuclear power plant to India. Then on March 16, he met in Moscow with Turkey’s visiting prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and re-confirmed Turkey’s plan to buy Russian reactors.

    To ensure that Minsk starts construction on time in September, Russia is extending to Belarus a $6-billion loan.

    Vladimir Slivyak runs Eco-Zashita, or Eco-Defense. Speaking from Moscow, he said Russia’s nuclear power industry is crippled by secrecy and corruption. "The policy of Russian government on construction of new nuclear reactors is completely wrong, and the level of nuclear safety at nuclear plants that are already operating is at a way low level."  

    Russia currently produces about 16 percent of its electricity from 32 nuclear power plants. Over the next decade, the government plans to build another 11 reactors, raising the nuclear portion of Russia’s electricity production to 25 percent.

    Anti-nuclear movement gains momentum

    As in Belarus, Japan’s accident has energized Russia’s anti-nuclear movement. Slivyak, whose web address is: www.anti-atom.ru, said "We have been way, way lucky, so far, that we did not have an accident like in Japan."

    In Minsk, Putin arrived primed to combat nuclear skepticism. He said Russian reactors are now several generations beyond the late 1960s Soviet designs used in Chernobyl. He said, "Japanese reactors are using 40-year-old American technology. We’re talking about completely new technologies."

    His Belarus counterpart, Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich, agreed, saying, "Belarus and Russia will build an efficient and safe nuclear power plant. This issue is especially sensitive to us. You know that April 25 will mark 25 years since the Chernobyl disaster, and so this is a momentous event for us against the background of this and the latest developments in Japan."

    Putin added that Belarus is not in an earthquake zone.

    But an activist group calling itself "Scientists for a Nuclear-free Belarus" has written an open letter to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, saying that in 1909, an earthquake as strong as the one recorded in Japan last week was recorded in the area of Belarus selected for the two reactors.

    Belarus nuclear complex

    The Belarus nuclear complex is to be constructed on the northern edge of the country, 20 kilometers from Lithuania. Lithuanian officials are asking why Belarus, a country almost the size of Britain, is locating the nation’s only nuclear power plant 45 kilometers east of Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.

    Relations are already chilly between the two neighbors - one a democracy, the other ruled by a man often called the last dictator of Europe.  Last December, when an independent exit poll indicated that Lukashenko was not going to win the first round of presidential elections, he responded by locking up seven of the opposing candidates.

    Novikova describes how controls are tightening on anti-nuclear activists in Belarus.

    Public sentiment opposed

    She charges police staged a traffic accident with Nicholas Ulasevich, the leader of anti-nuclear protesters in the power plant construction area. He had to pay a large fine. When confronted by an anti-nuclear reactor petition signed by 3,000 local residents, Novikova said police responded by investigating each signer.

    Last year, a Belarusian talk show, Choice, asked TV viewers if they think modern nuclear power plants are safe. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said no.

    In the current atmosphere, it is unlikely there will be any similar show soon on Belarus state-run TV.

    Indeed, a recently released movie, Innocent Saturday, was suddenly pulled from theaters in Minsk. Russia’s first film about the Chernobyl disaster, the movie revolves around a young Communist Party official who hears of the nuclear accident on Saturday night, April 25. The next morning, he is one of the first to arrive at the burning power plant and witness the scale and danger. As alternatives, Minsk movie theaters offer a choice of a thriller or an action film, both fantasies.

    You May Like

    Multimedia US Observes Memorial Day With Wreath-laying, National Concert

    Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora