Belarus to start building its first nuclear power plant in 2008

MINSK, February 5 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus plans to start building its first nuclear power plant in 2008.

Belarus's National Academy of Sciences said Monday the NPP's first unit will be commissioned in 2013-2014, and the second unit by 2015. Their total power will be 1,000 megawatts.

Another two units will be built by 2025.

Earlier, a deputy chairman of the academy presidium, Vladimir Timoshpolsky, said Russia and France are the likeliest partners of Belarus in the project.

"Today there's practically no choice - only Germany, Japan and the U.S. provide services on the nuclear power market besides these states," he said.

In 2007, Belarus is to complete theoretical research and choose a strategic partner for project implementation, and will start talks with the supplier of technology and equipment.

Russia has traditionally been Belarus' closest ally, whose leadership has become increasingly isolated in the West over clampdowns on civil and political freedoms.

Belarus' authoritarian ruler Lukashenko and many other top officials have been banned from entering the United States and the European Union, and the EU has frozen Belarusian government assets.

The ex-Soviet neighbors declared their intention to build a Union State, with a common economic, customs and political space, in 1997. But negotiations have been complicated by a host of issues, including an energy-pricing row at the beginning of 2007, disagreements on a common currency, and tax issues.

During the energy standoff, Moscow briefly shut off supplies via Belarusian pipelines to several EU countries, damaging its image as a reliable energy supplier.

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended Russia's stance on a gradual transition to market relations with Belarus, saying that it was put in motion now rather than a year ago only because the Russian leadership did not want to "damage the Belarusian president's popularity" before elections in the country in 2006.

However, Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko, who won a landslide election last March, has lately assumed a tough stance on Moscow, claiming that bilateral relations have been steadily deteriorating over the past decade.