Belarus announces plans to build nuclear power plant

dpa German Press Agency

Minsk- A senior scientist in the pariah state Belarus announced his country would begin construction of a nuclear power plant as early as 2007, according to a Thursday Bel-1 television news report. Mikhail Miasnikovich, chairman of the Belarus Academy of Sciences, said state budgeting was in place for the power plant, scheduled to be completed by 2010.

"Work on the project will begin already next year," Miasnikovich said, without giving details.

Miasnikovich's officially-sanctioned announcement marked a dramatic reversal of national energy policy by Belarus' authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko, who as recently as last month complained of a plan in neighbouring Lithuania to build a modern nuclear power plant near the Belarusian border.

Lukashenko is an admirer of the Soviet Union, and Belarus retains a wide range of Soviet-era technologies. The country nonetheless is not thought to contain engineering skill sufficient to construct a modern nuclear power plant.

Belarus' economy is dependant on Russian natural gas and oil sold at lower-than-market rates. The Russian natural gas monopolist Gazprom recently announced it wanted Belarus to pay the full market rate.

Belarusian construction of a nuclear reactor using home-grown technologies would be worrying to neighbouring countries because of potential radiation threat if there were an accident, and because of the potential the politically-marginalised Lukashenko regime might develop nuclear weapons.

The largest area of radiation-contaminated territory on Earth is in in Belarus, which was downwind of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power accident.