Taavi Aas: Astravyets problem could be solved by stricter measures

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas
Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Center) said a compromise proposal made by the European Commission regarding Belarusian Astravyets nuclear power plant recommends stricter safety measures but does not rule out buying electricity from third countries.

Aas said after a meeting of the European Commission on Tuesday: "Discussions have now reached a point, where conditions on which trading can continue are being discussed. That means that nuclear safety, Astravyets power plant safety, and on what conditions electricity trading with third countries can continue, are being talked about."

He added: "The contents of the compromise proposal are largely that the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) should do a further assessment of Astravyets power plant."

The minister reiterated the argument is mostly between Latvia and Lithuania, as Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said on June 29.

The Lithuanian government has been against the construction of the power plant since it's inception and is now trying to lobby neighboring countries to boycott buying electricity from the plant. They have introduced a law that would rule out electricity trading from Astravyets, about 50 km from Vilnius. Electricity which reaches the Baltics does so through Latvia.

Aas said: "Estonia does not have any disagreements, we have largely accepted all proposals. Of course, Estonia is in a different situation than Latvia and Lithuania. But where the discussions have gotten to, I think they've improved over time because nuclear safety is important to us as well."

The economics affairs minister added the commission's proposal was amended and improved during Tuesday's meeting. "Both Latvia and Lithuania had to discuss the proposal and inform us if there could be an agreement. I hope this argument will end sometime."

He warned the other Baltic states: "We have always dealt with third country energy trade together with the other Baltic states. If there is no agreement, then the situation how we act as one, will change."

Aas confirmed the €700 million support package provided by the EU, to synchronize electricity grids with Continental Europe is still in the works.

The Baltic states are planning on synchronizing electricity grids with continental Europe by 2025 which should end the discussion of using Belarusian electricity. It is the period until then that is causing issues.

The Astravyets plant is nearing completion and lies only a few kilometers from the border with Lithuania. Both safety and environmental concerns have been raised about the plant in the past. The Lithuanian government has been against the construction of the power plant since it's inception.

Electricity from Astravyets power plant would reach Baltic markets through Latvia who buys electricity through the Russian grid. Lithuania sees the Astravyets plant as both environmentally unsafe and a potential way for the Russian Federation to pressure Belarus, which shares a border with both Lithuania and Latvia.

June 26 marked a historic incident in Baltic history, when Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda stood up the other heads of state by not attending a scheduled summit hosted by Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid.

This is reportedly the first time a Baltic head of state has given the meeting, an annual tradition dating back to 1991 and independence, a miss, at least due to political reasons.

Member of Latvian parliament: Lithuania's complaints regarding Astravyets are absurd

Although it has not been voted on and formalized, the stance of Latvia's coalition seems to be that Lithuanians are pressuring their stances upon them and do not consider the production capacity and supply security of Latvia, ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported on Tuesday.

The needs of Latvia would not be met by only electricity produced in the country and Lithuania knows it. They have also been made aware that the connections allowing Latvia to abandon trading with Russia are not ready.

Rihards Kols, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Saeima (the Latvian parliament - ed.), told AK: "Lithuania has reproached their two Baltic brothers that they are not in solidarity with them, that we are not united. I could ask them - did Lithuanian colleagues from parliament or government consult with Estonian and Latvian colleagues when they approved a law in 2018 that they would stop energy trading with third countries?"

Kols added Latvia understands Lithuania's problem with the power plant's location. But whether the Baltic states like it or not, the power plant will be ready soon and the International Atomic Energy Agency needs to monitor its safety.

Latvian President Egils Levits has said security is the main issue, Latvian Minister of Economics Janis Vitenbergs said if electricity trading with Russia is stopped, it would mark a major increase in electricity prices.

Kols said: "The Lithuanian side has not presented a proposal which they consider an alternative, compensating for deficit and damages? They passed the law in 2018 in full capacity. They've not offered any solutions."

The so-called "anti-Astravyets law" declares the Astravyets plant a threat to national security, environment and public health. The government later approved an action plan for blocking electricity imports from the plant.

Dzintars Kaulinš, Deputy State Secretary of Latvian Ministry of Economics, said: "We have been dealing with this question for more than half a year. We have been trying to find a compromise with the help of experts since autumn of last year."

Kols added that: "Complaints made by Lithuania to Latvia, saying that Latvia is in support of the power plant's nuclear reactor, are absurd."


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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