On May 5, the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) adopted a resolution, asking the European Union to impose sanctions on Rosatom and other companies involved in the development of the Astravyets nuclear power plant (NPP) in Belarus. They also asked the EU to block the import of electricity produced by “unsafe stations of third countries (Belarus) from entering the common market.” Vilnius officials consider the plant, which is located approximately 10 miles from the Lithuanian border, a threat to national security due to the project’s alleged noncompliance with international safety standards. Meanwhile, Belarusian officials and Rosatom insist the plant is safe and intend to turn reactors on this summer, with expectation of producing the plant’s first kilowatt hours of electricity by fall 2020.
Beyond concerns about the environmental and safety standards at the plant, completion of Astravyets also has the potential to undermine energy security efforts by the Baltic states. Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are currently in the process of synchronizing themselves with the European electricity grid and disconnecting from the Soviet BRELL system. There is concern that power from the new Russian-built plant will be able to undercut the prices of domestic or non-Russian energy supplies, putting pressure on the Baltic states, once again, to look East for its energy supply solutions. As Belarus is expected to generate a power supply surplus, the concern is that the Astravyets NPP could put the country in a position to export cheaper nuclear power to the Baltics in a manner that creates political pressure to accept Russian supplies over the existing diversification efforts. While less expensive energy supplies may seem attractive, the reliance it could again create on Belarussian power (facilitated by Russian state-owned enterprises) could put the Baltic states back in the vulnerable position it has been working to escape.
Lithuania’s current push to sanction Rosatom could prove difficult, since the decision for such a measure would require consensus between all member states (some of which are engaged in large-scale projects with Rosatom).