Belarus to accelerate plans for new nuclear reactor

Minsk - Belarus, the country worst hit by the Chernobyl nuclear power accident, will accelerate plans to build a new reactor, the Belapan news agency reported on Friday.

A May 1986 reactor explosion at the Soviet Union's Chernobyl station spewed a radioactive dust cloud into the atmosphere, reaching half of Europe and hitting down-wind Belarus the hardest.

Belarus needs to increase its use of nuclear power because of a recent doubling of oil and natural gas prices from Russia, Belarus' only source of fossil fuel energy, said Sergei Sidorskiy, Belarus Prime Minister.

The Belarus government last year called for the construction of a nuclear power station in the country over nine years, with the first reactor to be operational in 2015.

The station according to the updated plan will be delivering electricity to Belarusian consumers by 2011, Sidorskiy said. At present, there are no nuclear power stations in Belarus.

Funding for construction at an as-yet unannounced site would come partially from Belarusian government income, and partly from the Moscow-based Evraziskiy Bank of Development, said Igor Finogenov, a bank spokesman.

Belarusian atomic scientists have proposed Belarus build its nuclear power station in the Chernobyl 'Dead Zone', an uninhabited and swampy area in south Belarus badly polluted by the Chernobyl accident.

The Evraziskiy Bank is owned jointly by the Russian and Kazakhstan governments, and finances the development of atomic energy in both countries, Finogenov said.

'If Belarus wants to participate in our (nuclear) programmes, they are welcome,' he said.

Nuclear power in Belarus is controversial not only because of the large number of radiation exposure victims living in the country, but because of neighbouring Lithuania's extensive use of reactor-produced electricity.

Belarusian officials have criticised Lithuania's Ignalina Lithuanian plant, a Soviet-era station located on a lake shared with Belarus, as threatening to Belarusian ecology. Ignalina produces around 80 per cent of Lithuania's electricity, according to media reports.

Lithuanian interest in constructing a new nuclear station with modern technology, after Ignalina shuts down, also has drawn fire from Belarus as potentially dangerous for the region.

c 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur