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Great construction with a limited intellect

Pavel Latushka: Deputy Head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus, Head of the NAM, Ambassador

Recently, Aliaksandr Cherviakov, the so-called Minister of Economy appointed by Lukashenko, announced the development of seven strategic projects aimed at restructuring the Belarusian economy. These projects include the construction of a new cellulose plant, the establishment of basalt processing facilities, and the joint development of an airplane with Russia. However, perhaps the most ambitious project among them is the construction of a second nuclear power plant in Belarus.

It may be speculated that Lukashenko has already paid off the debts for the first nuclear power plant. Has the Astravets station demonstrated economic efficiency and viability for the country? The reality is quite the opposite.

The debts incurred by Lukashenko in pursuit of his "nuclear power" dreams amount to a staggering $10 billion. This translates to over $1,000 of debt for every resident of Belarus, including infants. Essentially, from the moment of birth, each Belarusian citizen is burdened with this debt, which contradicts the notion of a prosperous "nuclear country" under Lukashenko's rule.

Furthermore, Lukashenko has not even begun repaying the debts owed to Russia for the first nuclear power plant. Instead, he may burden the country with several billion dollars of new debt for the construction of the second plant.

However, the country is facing a severe shortage of funds. In fact, Lukashenko recently raised concerns about Rosatom's failure to meet the deadlines for the commissioning of the first plant and the subsequent need for compensation.

Meanwhile, the deadline of April 2024, set by Russia for the start of debt payments for the first nuclear power plant, is rapidly approaching. Excluding interest, Belarus must find over $650 million in payments for the first year alone, considering that the loan was granted for a 15-year period. However, with no available funds, it is unclear where this money will come from.

Despite the lack of financial resources, Lukashenko is eager to embark on yet another grand construction project, displaying his questionable judgment and intelligence. The audacity of such plans from the dictator and his cohorts is truly astonishing from any perspective.

First and foremost, there are serious concerns regarding safety. The first nuclear plant was constructed with numerous violations and incidents, including the accidental dropping of the nuclear reactor vessel during installation in 2016. In 2020, the emergency cooling system tanker was damaged, and in 2022, cracks were discovered in the top seams of the Unit 1 reactor vessel. These are only the incidents that have been publicly disclosed.

BelNPP poses a genuine threat to Belarusian citizens, as well as to neighboring countries. Lukashenko has already planted a "nuclear time bomb" in the western part of Belarus, and now he plans to do the same in the east with the proposed nuclear power plant in the Mogilev region.

Moreover, Belarus itself does not require the amount of energy that the Astravets NPP currently produces or will be capable of producing. With two operational units, the domestic market simply cannot consume the excess electricity generated. Additionally, there are no viable export options. Consequently, the notion of the Lukashenko regime's "great construction" projects being financially viable is baseless. According to expert calculations, the production of surplus energy from the new nuclear power plant could reach approximately 90%.

And there is no reason to believe that there will be a significant increase in energy demand, especially in such large volumes. The global economy, in order to improve efficiency, is naturally focused on reducing energy consumption. Energy-efficient high technologies and services play an increasingly important role, rather than energy-intensive industries and agricultural practices from a century ago, which only account for a significant share in the economies of third-world countries. However, Lukashenko seems to view Belarus as a third-world country.

Thirdly, the promised nuclear power plant, according to Lukashenko and his officials, has not led to any reduction in energy prices for citizens or businesses. On the contrary, electricity tariffs continue to rise. In 2023 alone, they have been increased twice, by 6% and then by another 13%. The construction of a new nuclear power plant may result in a further 40% increase in electricity costs. Moreover, experts estimated back in 2020 that electricity produced by the Astravets NPP would be 2.5 times more expensive than gas-generated electricity.

Additionally, there is a question regarding the fate of previously modernized hydroelectric power plants (HPPs) such as the Lukoml hydroelectric power plant, which used to provide up to 30-35% of the country's electricity needs. Significant funds were invested in the modernization of the Lukoml HPP. With the commissioning of the Astravets NPP, the necessity of continuing the operation of this hydroelectric power plant has come into question, as together, the two power plants (Lukoml and Astravets) produce much more energy than the country consumes. Although the HPP currently ensures the stability of the country's energy system during temporary shutdowns of the nuclear power plant, the simultaneous operation of both plants does not make economic sense. So where is the economic rationale here? There is none. This is not about Lukashenko himself, as his understanding of economics remains at the level of a negligent director of an outdated state farm.

When global gas prices were extremely high, Belarus purchased gas from Russia. Now that hydrocarbon prices have significantly dropped, we are shifting from cheaper energy sources to nuclear energy. Lukashenko has effectively moved us from the Russian oil and gas dependence to a Russian nuclear dependency. There is no progress towards energy independence; only a worsening of the situation. And at the same time, our economy is being undermined by a Russian nuclear bomb, metaphorically speaking. Moreover, the entire country is at risk.



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