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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.