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  Isolated Belarusian energy sector and anticipated reforms (1)

Antanas Ðutas
2013 10 07

Belarus belongs to the electrical ring of the BRELL network standing for Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Energy transmission lines connect the country with Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine. Connections with Russia are of powerful, whereas the power of connections with Lithuania is likely to decrease since our country is determined to join the grid of Continental Europe.  

Four fifths of energy produced in Belarus is generated using Russian gas. Pursuant to the Belarusian Energy Strategy for 2011-2020 the neighbours should build a new 1000 MW coal-fired power plant, 2400 MW nuclear power plant, as well as 300 MW wind turbines and 120 MW hydro power plants. If the above goals are reached Belarus could reduce the dependence on Russian gas for energy generation from 80 percent in 2009 to 55 percent in 2020.

VVER-1000 reactor was earlier being built in Belarus but construction was abandoned in 1988 after the Chernobyl accident. In 2006 the country decided to build a 2000 MW nuclear power plant (NPP) in Mogilev region (with two potential construction sites) accumulating large share of Belarusian industry. According to the estimations, it is expected to provide electricity at half the cost of that from Russian gas. After expressions of interest from international reactor vendors were invited, the proposals have been submitted by the corporations like Russian „Atomstroyeksport“, American „Westinghouse-Toshiba“, French „Areva“ and Chinese „Guangdong“. The Russian company won the tender and in 2007 the search for a construction site commenced. Besides possible sites in Mogilev region, Ostrovets has also been selected as a candidate site. Despite Lithuania‘s protests in December 2008 this site has been chosen for construction of NPP.  

According to the plans, the VVER-1200 pressurised water reactor will be released at the beginning of 2019; Russian VVER reactors are famous for their safety systems similar to those in the reactors of the U.S., France or Japan; in view of this, it is not right to say that experimental reactors are being built close to Lithuania, moreover, that the analogous (but older) reactors are functioning in Czech Republic, Slovakia and Finland. On the other hand, even the best nuclear technologies but low level project management and construction culture cannot ensure safety of the entire nuclear object.

Regarding the nuclear waste management in the Ostrovets NPP it is necessary to say that Russia's policy for building nuclear power plants in non-nuclear weapons states is to deliver on a turnkey basis, including supply of all fuel and repatriation of used fuel for the life of the plant. The fuel is to be reprocessed in Russia and the separated wastes returned to the client country eventually.

In 2011 Russia and Belarus signed a 10 billion USD loan agreement which should cover 90 percent of the Ostrovets NPP construction costs. Having in mind that huge funds are necessary for the renewal of Russian power plants and grids, the future of financing of the Ostrovets NPP from Russian funds heavily depends on Russia‘s attempts to realise its energy interests in the Baltic countries which are the targets of the Ostrovets NPP.   

In order to evaluate competitiveness of their nuclear power plant the Belarusians applied the INPRO methodology recommended by the IAEA for the assessment of direct project costs and expenditure for infrastructure, nuclear waste management, safety of the environment and physical object and nuclear safety. According to the analysis, the price of the Ostrovets NPP energy (in USD cents) should be 5,81 ct /kWh (for comparison: energy price generated in the new coal-fired power plant would be 6,52 ct/kWh, in the gas-fired power plant– 6,76 ct/kWh). If Belarusians manage to reach the indicated price, they could seriously consider the export of energy to the Baltic States‘ energy market. On the other hand, nobody knows the final price of energy produced in the Ostrovets NPP, as well as the price of energy in the Baltic States energy market by 2020.

It is also necessary to mention the nuclear cooperation agreement signed in 2009 by Belarus and China.  Last year Chinese energy company has contracted to build a 330 kV transmission line to connect the Ostrovets power plant to the grid. This has slightly increased the possibility of Belarus to successfully manage the construction of a nuclear power plant.  

Ostrovets NPP project is fully dependent on Russia, yet the latter is also building the Baltic NPP project in Kaliningrad region. In a certain sense these projects are competing, since Russia seeks the same goals with respect to Baltic States. For Russia the Ostrovets NPP is less important than the Baltic NPP, since this power plant will have to ensure energy security in the Kaliningrad Region the military power of which is very important for Russia. However, it is difficult to forecast finalisation of the Ostrovets NPP project. Although its beginning was promising for Belarus and opening the opportunities of more extensive energy cooperation with Lithuania, the current situation is ambiguous. Lithuania cannot do anything when Russia through Belarus is building a nuclear power plant close to our borders; yet, having analysed the processes taking place in the country and around, it could be concluded that it is us, citizens, who must decide on whether Russian nuclear power plants are to be constructed in our neighbourhood or not. The situation with the Kaliningrad NPP is also unclear; it was also determined by Lithuania‘s resistance not to buy energy from this plant. Without any doubt, very soon we‘ll receive proposals to buy energy from the Ostrovets NPP. And again – our determination is likely to affect the future of the Ostrovets NPP.

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