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Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant
© tut.by nuotr.

After Belarus' Energy Ministry admitted there had been an "extreme situation" on the construction site of Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant, a leading Lithuanian nuclear energy expert says that the incident must have been serious and that the facility may need a new reactor body.

Saulius Kutas, the former head of Lithuania's National Atomic Energy Safety Inspectorate (VATESI), says that Lithuania should demand answers about safety not just from Belarus, but also from the maker of the reactor, Russia's Rosatom.

Belarusian media has reported that a 330-ton unit fell down 2 to 4 metres during installation of the reactor at the Astravyets facility on July 10.

After a period of silence, the Belarusian government circulated a statement on Tuesday, admitting that an incident occurred at the plant which is being built near the Lithuanian border.

"According to the information provided by the general contractor, Atomstrojeksport, the extreme situation occurred during the performance of the rigging work while moving the reactor's body horizontally in the storage site," the Belarusian Energy Ministry said in a press release.

The ministry said that the state company Belarusian NPP "immediately requested all necessary documents and data from the general contractor".

"Relevant decisions will be made after thorough analysis of the information provided by Atomstrojproject to Belarusian specialists. Belarus will act in line with the necessity to unconditionally ensure safety at the nuclear facility under construction," the ministry said.

Kutas says that, judging by the statement, the incident could have involved the VVER-1200 reactor which could have been damaged.

"I think it is a serious incident, since one cannot handle nuclear devices like this, one cannot throw them around. It has to be thoroughly checked, because it is not empty, there are all sorts of things inside. It happened so close to us, so we must demand answers not just from the Belarusians, but from the manufacturer as well," Kutas has told BNS.

He added that the reactor body may have to be returned to Rosatom for repair or replacement.

He adds that the incident does not pose immediate danger, since the reactor does not contain any radioactive materials during the construction phase. However, the incident may have a bearing on the plant's operations in the future.