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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs