Montel Magazine 3 - 2020 - Page 27

Belarus nuclear plant turns up political heat in Baltics

A new 1.2 GW nuclear power station in Belarus will soon switch on , but it has already generated enough political heat with the Baltic nations prepared to block imports of electricity from the plant .
By Olav Vilnes and Gert Ove Mollestad » newsdesk @ montelnews . com
Built by Russia ’ s Rosatom , the Astravyets power plant in Belarus sits just 50km from Lithuania ’ s capital , Vilnius , too close for comfort for the former Soviet state and fellow neighbours Estonia and Latvia . Yet Rusatom and the Belarus government insist the power plant is safe .
Rosatom started fuel loading into the first of two planned reactors at Astravyets in August , saying the reactor would be ready to start generating electricity as soon as the reliability and safety of the unit is confirmed .
The plant is built on its latest three-plus turbine technology , which is already in use in mainland Russia , says Rosatom , adding it meets all post-Fukushima safety requirements and that its reliability has been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency ( IAEA ) through inspections .
But the Baltic nations are far from convinced . Lithuania – which had to close its ageing Ignalina nuclear power plant as a precondition for joining the EU in 2004 – has long opposed the Astravyets project , deeming it unsafe and accusing Minsk of holding back information and obstructing international inspections .
In 2017 , Lithuania ’ s parliament voted to ban imports from “ unsafe ” nuclear power plants . More recently , Latvia and Estonia agreed to join Lithuania ’ s embargo on Belarus electricity as soon as the Astravyets plant starts to generate electricity , due early next year .
Their plan has met some obstacles , not least because all electricity market-based exchange between the Baltic states and mainland Russia is currently channelled through the 1.7 GW border between Lithuania and Belarus that will effectively close .
TSOs Litgrid , Elering and AST have agreed to channel future commercial imports from Russia through Latvia , with a maximum capacity of 900 MW . But they had yet to finalise measures to physically
Montel Magazine 3 – 2020 stop Belarussian power flows from entering their region indirectly from Russia when this article went to print .
The move is seen as vital in making the Baltic countries less dependent on Russian imports as they prepare for desynchronisation from the latter ’ s electricity system in 2025 , says Estonian TSO Elering , which estimates that power imports from Russia will halve from current levels under the new arrangement .
A new network charge will be introduced on imports from Russia , in order to mitigate a competitive disadvantage Baltic power producers have against those in Russia due to higher carbon costs in the EU , according to Elering .
Power exchange capacity between the Russian exclave Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast and Lithuania will remain unchanged at 700 MW , though the new grid fee for imports will also apply there .
Market participants say the new measures could make the Baltic countries more vulnerable to price hikes in the short term , particularly during any unplanned disruptions on interconnectors to Sweden and Finland . Over time , however , power prices in the Baltic region should hover somewhere between those in Finland and Poland , they say .
Last year , for instance , spot power prices in Lithuania averaged at EUR 46.12 / MWh , compared to EUR 44.04 / MWh in Finland and EUR 53.44 / MWh in Poland .
Meanwhile , Lithuania ’ s TSO insists that banning imports from Belarus poses no threat to security of supply . Litgrid reckons the country ’ s import capacity from Poland , Sweden and Latvia provide more than enough capacity combined in a situation where one of those links would become temporarily unavailable . The country also has a reserve of plants to call upon in short notice , albeit at a higher cost , if needed , says Litgrid spokeswoman Jurga Eivaite . n 27