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20 Jan

Indre Vainalaviciute (Lithuania)
Balsas.lt, Aug 17, 2013


Waiting for nuclear paradise: the nuclear ghost of Chernobyl wanders the streets of Ostrovets

Many Lithuanians know that the formalities for entering Belarus can take longer than, for instance, it takes to prepare documents to visit faraway Thailand. While it seems that the nice little cities in neighbouring Belarus, just a few dozen kilometres from Vilnius, may be easily reached from Vilnius, anyone who wants to visit this country will have to be extremely patient and carefully follow all the border-crossing rules.

But it is worth filling in the long forms and waiting a few hours at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. Today Belarus is on the threshold of great changes. On arriving, you will be greeted by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin stretching out his arm as if to shake your hand... In the streets of Ostrovets, however, people boldly talk about the kind of country they would like to see and what kind of country they are creating. How successful this will be, only time will tell.

In addition to their common history, folklore and neighbourly love, there is one other major issue which Lithuanians and Belarusians share  – nuclear power plant construction. In a referendum, Lithuanians gave a firm “NO” to the question of constructing a nuclear power plant, but in neighbouring Belarus and Kaliningrad this idea has started to materialise. If in Kaliningrad the construction of a new power plant has been slowed down, the construction on the site in Ostrovets in Belarus is going full speed ahead.

On a trip to the soon-to-be "nuclear" Ostrovets, Balsas.lt journalists had the chance to check up on the progress.

“The nuclear paradise” will come soon

Ostrovets welcomes visitors with tidy streets and well-manicured flowerbeds. However, not all of Ostrovets’s residents are happy about the nuclear power plant that is being built nearby. The community is divided into two camps – some people are categorically against the construction of a nuclear power plant, whereas others hope that this plant will create an economic paradise for locals.

The new atomic power plant will be built on a site that is only 25 kilometres away from the Lithuania-Belarus border and 53 kilometres away from the capital Vilnius, inhabited by a population of just over 0.5 million. And although Lithuanians are less than happy about their neighbour’s plans, Belarusian energy specialists claim that scheduled construction does not breach any of the European Union regulations on nuclear plant construction.

Belarusians’ favourite, and main argument in defence of the construction is that France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium all have at least a few power plants close to national borders and big cities. The future nuclear power plant in Belarus will be 20 kilometres away from Ostrovets.

Also, there is a new residential area being built in Ostravets – the houses are meant for construction workers. At the moment, 1,500 people work on the nuclear power plant construction site, with 300 more builders on the residential area. Aleksandras Pozdniakovas, senior engineer of the power plant Capital construction council, said:

“For this construction next year, we plan to employ approximately 3,000 people and in 2017-2018, when the reactors are assembled, approximately 8,000-9,000 people will work here.”

The power plant can hold more than two reactors. 

The nuclear power plant construction depot is 200 hectares in size. The same area will be needed for the nuclear power plant with its two reactors. When Lithuanian journalists inquired about President Alexander Lukashenko’s statement that in the future there might be more reactors built on the site, the senior engineers avoided giving a direct answer. Vladimiras Gorinas, the deputy engineer, asserted:

“At the moment we are building a nuclear power plant with two reactors and what will happen later, only the future will show.”

Building the nuclear power plant costs 10 billion US dollars.

The mission – to live on 300 litas a month

Maria, who sells fruit in a kiosk, is optimistic about life in Belarus. When asked – taking into account salaries and prices - if it is possible to live decently, she said:

“I cannot say that we are very hungry now. The more you work, the more you earn. There is no unemployment in Ostrovets – those who want to work always manage to find a job”.

Another local resident, who did not want to give her name to Balsas.lt journalists, explained that if the nuclear power plant is being constructed here, it means that there is a need for it.

“If this is being done, it means that our government needs it and therefore we need it too. We are hoping for new jobs, because people living here want to work and can work”.

The woman explained that a recovery on the jobs market is already evident. According to the construction managers, there are currently around 15,000 construction workers on site and there are plans to hire up to 8,000 people in the near future. Local authorities have already boasted that a salary for a qualified construction worker will be up to 3,500 litas [approx 1,000 EUR]. The lady revealed that the nuclear plant construction had a very noticeable effect on local salaries – they decreased.

The local lady also said that the government may be attempting to raise funds for the construction by making cuts in other public sectors.

“No one explained anything to us - salaries simply decreased. They say that the soviet times are over. If you want to know about salaries in Belarus, please ask how much a teacher earns. A cook working at a school canteen earns 1,000,400 roubles (approx. 292 litai, or 85 EUR). This is not enough for one person to live on and you also have to support children, and pay the bills.”

Chernobyl caught up in Ostrovets

There are also some locals who are categorically against the construction of the nuclear power plant. One on them is Galina. When the Chernobyl power plant reactor exploded in late May 1986, Galina‘s family was living in Pripyat. Galina told her story to the Balsas.lt journalists, who came to find out what the locals thought about the nuclear plant construction.

“I came here from that zone. We moved to Ostravets after the disaster. Our house was damaged, everything we had just disappeared. We came here without anything. We had to start from scratch.”

Back then, Galina was newly married to her husband who worked at the nuclear plant. Unfortunately, because of the radiation he was exposed to, he fell ill and never recovered. He passed away three years ago. The tragedy of Chernobyl also took away Galina’s parents – when she and her husband decided to move, her parents refused to leave their home in the danger zone. After the move, Galina’s family never met again – Galina’s parents passed away a few years after the tragedy. Galina and her husband also did not have children. Galina still remembers how she came to Ostravets without a change of clothes, or household items – everything that they had was at home beyond the border – a home that turned from being cosy, to deadly, after the explosion. Without even trying to hide her pain, the local lady said that now she is all alone. The Chernobyl disaster that she ran away from in 1986 has caught up with her here. In many senses. 

Originally published: http://www.balsas.lt/naujiena/748347/atominio-rojaus-belaukiant-astravo-gatvemis-klaidzioja-atomine-cernobylio-smekla/1

Originally published: http://www.balsas.lt/naujiena/748347/atominio-rojaus-belaukiant-astravo-gatvemis-klaidzioja-atomine-cernobylio-smekla/1