Anti-nuclear activists meet during the Belarussian Social Forum
(June 21, 2007) In Belarus, nuclear energy is a very sensitive issue. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 had grave consequences for the Belarussian population, which are felt up till now. There are no nuclear power plants in Belarus. However, the authoritarian regime of president Lukashenko has announced plans to build one. At the same time, its cutting on the support for victims Chernobyl. Anti-nuclear activists are starting a campaign to fight against this.
(657.5812) EYFA - As announced in the Nuclear Monitor 654 (20 April 2007) from May 15-20 the Belarussian Social Forum (BSF) took place outside Minsk, Belarus. About 150 Belarussian and international activists met to exchange knowledge and strategies. The repressive regime is very intolerant of any political dissent. Political meetings of any kind that include foreigners are illegal. Therefore such meetings rarely take place, and are a political action in itself. The BSF provided a unique venue to discuss political alternatives and activist initiatives within Belarus. A diverse range of topics was discussed, like alternative media, ecology, globalisation and anarchism. Anti-nuclear activists attended the BSF to give a workshop and discuss the development of their anti-nuclear campaign. This article is based on interviews with them.
A power plant in Belarus?
There are no nuclear power plants in Belarus. Since 1996 a national moratorium prevented the building of nuclear power stations, but with an expiry date after 10 years. Now that this building-ban has expired, President Lukashenko announced in December 2006 his plans to build a nuclear power plant. The plan includes grand promises of job stimulation, economic growth and energy security.
The process is in its very early stages. Currently the government is trying to find a company to build a nuclear plant. The exact location is still to be determined. The new plant will cost between 3-5 million USD. Belarus is financially unable to carry out such a project. Moreover, there is no educated sector in Belarus trained to build and operate a nuclear power plant independently. Therefore, the government is looking for a company who can lend money, invest in the project and also provide technologies and equipment to build the plant. So far the leading competitors for building are France and Russia.
Activists are also quick to criticize the claims of government that nuclear power in Belarus will bring energy independence to the country, especially the suggestion it will let Belarus be more independent from Russia. Belarus has no uranium, so it would have to be imported, possibly from Russia. Moreover, Russia might be chosen as the investor in the nuclear project, again reinforcing the energy dependency on Russia
Annual Chernobyl march
Most Belarussians remember the Chernobyl disaster, and many of them are still affected by it. This influences their opinion greatly. Since the 1990s there is an annual march in memory of Chernobyl, organized by the national-liberal political opposition. It takes place on the anniversary of Chernobyl, April 26, and aims to remind the public of the consequences of nuclear energy.
In the 2007 march several thousand people attended. Since 1996 anarchists groups have also been participating in the demonstration. This past April they specifically protests against the cancellation of benefits and allowances to the people who have suffered from the effects of the Chernobyl disaster. The march in general also addressed problems of centralization and privatisation of energy sectors, the link to militarism and the ecological dangers of nuclear power.
Building an anti-nuclear campaign
In recent years, the annual Chernobyl march was the one constant action happening against nuclear power in Belarus. However, activists are planning to have more actions and awareness campaigns in the coming months. Reacting to the governments plan to bring nuclear energy to Belarus, they aim to increase public interest and inspire the public to intervene in government decisions in the matter. This is difficult, because a Soviet Union mentality is still present in public consciousness. Most of the population feels dis-empowered and unwilling to show disagreement with state plans because they feel their opinions will make no difference. People still do not act or involve themselves because they think the government will decide everything anyway.
The social movement against nuclear power is now trying to focus its efforts on making the nuclear issue a matter of public interest and concern, urging people to decide for themselves whether they want nuclear power. The goal of anti-nuclear groups is to not let the government decide about nuclear energy until the public opinion has been heard.
The strategy used for this is to educate and communicate in different communities in Belarus about the dangers of nuclear energy; to build local social networks on this issue, as part of a growing anti-nuclear movement; to reach out for international support and exposure to help strengthening the message.
Source: Natalie Caine, Project Co-ordinator, European Youth For Action (EYFA)
Contact: To make a link with the anarchist anti-nuclear movement in Belarus or anti-nuclear campaigners in general, contact European Youth For Action (EYFA) by email: [email protected]
Nuclear power in Belarus.
In mid 2006 the government of Belarus approved a plan for the construction of an initial 2000 MWe PWR nuclear power plant in the Mogilev region of eastern Belarus, with construction to begin by 2010 and operation in 2015. Projected cost is US$ 2.5 to 3.0 billion including a 5-year reserve of fuel. In February 2007 it was announced that construction of this first 2 x 1000 MWe plant would start in 2008, for commissioning in 2014 & 2015 (later: 2015-20). Both Russian and Areva NP technology have been mentioned, with the former most likely. Two further units are envisaged for operation by 2025. In June 2007 Russia's Eximbank offered a US$ 2 billion credit line to enable purchase of equipment from Russia's Power Machines company as a major part of the $3-4 billion overall cost. (A VVER-1000 unit was earlier being built near Minsk but construction was abandoned in 1988 after the Chernobyl accident.)
WNN, June 2007