Construction Halted on Belarus Nuclear Plant After Workers Drop Reactor Vessel

Construction on Belarus’s first nuclear power plant, being built by Russian state firm Rosatom in Ostrovets near the Lithuanian border, was halted after a construction mishap in July that is only now coming to light.

Exactly what happened at the construction site on July 10 is unclear, but according to Rosatom, the plant’s reactor vessel slipped to the ground during preparations for installation during a media event the following day. Company officials on Aug. 2 confirmed that workers failed to properly secure the vessel, causing it to “slip[] down slowly and touch[] the ground softly” according to a report in World Nuclear News. The company insisted that no damage occurred.

However, another report based on several social media postings by Belarusian officials suggested the 330-ton vessel “fell from a height of 2 to 4 meters,” which would be a significantly more serious accident (Figure). There were no reports of any injuries, however.

 

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Workers on the Belarus nuclear power plant apparently dropped the first unit’s 330-ton reactor vessel (shown here before the accident) on July 10. Courtesy: Rosatom

 

News of the incident was apparently suppressed for several weeks and confirmed only after reports appeared in media outlets in Lithuania, which has been sharply critical of the plant’s construction.

After initially insisting that there would be no change in the construction schedule, Rosatom officials agreed to a halt to allow experts to conduct an inspection, and to replace the vessel if it proved necessary. Then, on Aug., 10, the firm agreed to bring in additional experts to conduct stress testing of the plant later this year. On Aug. 11, Belarus formally requested replacement of the reactor vessel.

The incident has further inflamed tensions over the plant’s construction. Ostrovets is approximately 50 kilometers from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnus, and the Lithuanian government has not only vowed to never purchase its electricity, it has also attempted to organize a boycott of the plant’s power by other nations in the region.

Nuclear technology has become a major export industry for Russia, and the nation has aggressively pursued construction deals with countries such as India, South Africa, Turkey, and Vietnam. The 2,340-MW, two-unit, VVER-1200 plant in Belarus has been in development since 2008. Construction began in 2012 and is expected to complete in 2018 for Unit 1 and 2020 for Unit 2.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).