Belarus Expecting First Nuclear Power Plant 2019
Following the 1986 Chernobyl accident in the Ukrainian city of Pripyat, nuclear power plant development across much of Eastern Europe ground to a halt. Plants in various stages of completion, either proposed or under construction, were abandoned. Belarus, bordering Ukraine to the northwest, saw proposals for a nuclear generation station of its own relegated to archives for years.
In a bid for greater energy independence (natural gas-fired generation constitutes the majority of electrical production in Belarus, with 90% of feed gas imported from Russia), the revival of shelved nuclear generation proposals came to fruition through creation of the state-owned Nuclear Power Plant Construction Directorate. The Directorate was responsible for risk assessment, siting, proposal vetting and contractor selection, eventually settling on Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of Rosatom, as the general contractor of the project. The final location of the proposed plant was determined to be outside the city of Astravets near the Lithuanian border. In January 2014, two months after on-site arrival of the first concrete elements, the Directorate was reorganized into the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant unitary enterprise with the project sharing the same name (also referred to as “Belarusian NPP”).
Russian company OJSC Power Machines was selected to supply two third-generation VVER-1200 type reactors (AES-2006), a Russian variant of the Pressurized Water Reactor, together with turbines and turbo generators (1200 MW capacity each). Construction of the first reactor began in November 2013. Shortly afterward, Rolls-Royce subsidiary MTU Friedrichshafen received an order for ten high-speed emergency diesel generation sets (EDGs) for both Astravets reactors. Operation of the first reactor is expected to commence as early as mid-2019.
Investment in a power plant this size will be a significant boon to the national energy balance of Belarus, with the market receiving a flood of domestically-produced electricity. Once complete, nuclear-powered generation will constitute up to 40% of the country’s generation mix. The resulting 2400 MW of total capacity introduced to the grid will help to reduce Belarusian dependence on Russian natural gas by 5 billion cubic meters; down from the current 21-22 billion cubic meters used by Belarus today.
How this newfound, abundant supply of cheaper energy will be utilized is up for debate. During his speech at the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, held in Minsk on the 22-23 of June 2016, President Alexander Lukashenko aimed to provide assurances that demand would meet supply:
Today we need to replace what we don’t have – gas, oil, and so on – with electricity. Today the whole world is moving towards green technology, green economy. Today, electric cars are in demand in the world. Therefore it is necessary to prepare our economy and people to the fact that we will have a lot of power and electricity and replace gas stoves with electric stoves. It is necessary that we gradually get used to electric vehicles. It is necessary to acquire more industrial machines working on electricity.
Vehicles play heavily into the use of future capacity. The Ministry of Energy has created a draft plan for electric vehicle and infrastructure development that includes construction of 87 charging stations by the year 2017; that number increasing to 262 by 2025. These forecasts are bolstered by an anticipated minimum of 10,000 electric vehicles on Belarusian roads by 2025, with optimistic scenarios placing the number of vehicles closer to 32,000 (for reference, the total number of registered electric vehicles in Belarus in late 2015 was 27). A system of state incentives may be necessary to encourage widespread adoption, in line with other European countries.
Proposals for electricity consumption from the 2400 MW plant are promising if demand figures match government projections. The commissioning of two new interconnects in Lithuania with both Sweden (NordBalt) and Poland (LitPol) could provide an opportunity for Belarusian power exports to make their way into Western Europe, but opposition to the idea is strong. Lithuania, already opposed to Belarus’ construction of a nuclear power plant so close to its border (Astravets is located ~50 km from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius), claims the construction has failed to observe international nuclear safety agreements. Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius has stated that Lithuania will not be buying electricity from the Belarusian NPP nor give access to Lithuanian infrastructure. In addition to public opposition, the technical and political difficulties of synchronizing power supplied from the BRELL (Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) grid with the synchronous grid of Continental Europe would present significant challenges. In light of these issues, there is still time for Belarus to determine how power from the plant will be utilized before it comes online.
Tomasz Trus – Energy Analyst