The Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) team of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Belarus has significantly strengthened its regulatory nuclear safety framework over the past five years, including progress in the regulation of emergency preparedness and response. The team of experts also identified areas where challenges remain, including the need to further adapt regulatory inspections and inspector training for the operational phase of the new Belarusian nuclear power plant (NPP). The IRRS team had recently concluded a nine-day follow-up mission to review progress in Belarus’ implementation of recommendations and suggestions made during an initial mission in 2016.
The Belarusian government had constructed its first Nuclear Power Plant of 1200 Megawatts (MW) capacity near the city of Ostrovets, while the second unit was to be connected to the national grid in 2022. During the mission, the IAEA’s team reviewed the regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation facilities and activities, with the exception of transportation. The team also conducted a series of interviews and discussions with the staff of Gosatomnadzor, Belarusian nuclear watchdog, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. According to IRRS, Belarus has made progress in developing and implementing the regulatory framework for emergency preparedness and response as a result of the IRRS mission recommendations in 2016, including the establishment of the emergency response center in 2017 and the holding of complex emergency exercises. According to the IRRS mission, Belarus needs to expand the training programme for Gosatomnadzor staff to prepare for any possible emerging technical challenge in the operation of the Power Plant, develop performance indicators for regulatory inspections and use of medical physicists in medical exposures control arrangements.
Historically, Belarus had been a net energy importer and remained dependent on Russia regarding its energy needs after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. According to reports, Belarus had been importing about 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from Russia during the past decades. A rift had erupted between the Russian Federation and Belarus over the price of crude oil and subsidy on purchases by Belarus during 2010. Then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin did not restore this concession to his close ally Alexander Lukashenko. Russian Gas firm Gazprom also asked Belarus to increase the rates of gas, which shocked Lukashenko about the tactics of his long standing ally, who earlier remained in a pricing dispute with Ukraine for years. Belarusian leader decided to achieve self-sufficiency in energy by the means of nuclear power plants (NPP) and planned to build two nuclear power plants with the technical support of Russia.
The construction work on the first plant began during 2012. According to reports, the total cost of the construction was estimated $ 11 billion, while the Belarus and Russian Federation agreed to finance 90% of its construction cost. The Russian nuclear firm Rosatum has completed construction of the first plant whereas the second plant is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year. The construction of the nuclear power plant remained a point of conflict among various factions of the Belarusian society including political parties, human rights groups and social activists on various grounds. However, President Lukashenko is successfully transforming an energy deficient Belarus into an energy self-sufficient nation.