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Activists Step Up Campaign Against Belarusian Nuclear Plant

March 15, 2011

MINSK -- Activists in Belarus are stepping up their campaign against the country's first nuclear power plant, as Minsk and Moscow prepare to sign an agreement on its construction, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

A Russian-Belarusian agreement on construction of the plant in Astravets in western Belarus is expected to be signed at a special session of the joint Russian-Belarus Union during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's visit to Minsk today.

According to the preliminary plan, construction of the plant in the Hrodna region will start later this year.

In January Russia pledged to give Belarus a loan to help build the plant.

But ecologists and opposition activists are calling for the plan to be stopped in the wake of the nuclear crisis in Japan, where a nuclear power plant hit by last week's earthquake has been hit by explosions and leaked radiation into the atmosphere.

Minsk-based energy specialist Valyantsin Matskevich says that the idea of building a new nuclear plant in the Astravets district is "criminal." He recalls that in 1909, the region was hit by a 7-magnitude earthquake, and there is no guarantee that history will not repeat itself.

Heorhi Lepin, a member of the public organization Scientists for a Nuclear-Free Belarus, says that the financial and economic problems Belarus currently faces preclude embarking on such a huge and costly project as construction of a new nuclear power plant.

He says that even 12 years ago, before the global economic downturn, only 7-8 percent of the Belarusian population supported the idea. If a similar poll were held now, the number in favor would be even lower, Lepin says.

The Belarusian government has officially requested $9 billion from the Kremlin to finance construction of the Astravets plant. The loan is for 25 years, with repayments to begin only after the new plant comes on stream.

Russia has already started building the Baltic Nuclear Power Station in Kaliningrad Oblast.


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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