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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid