‘Chernobyl 2’ fears as Belarus begins building new nuclear plant

A brand new nuclear plant built by Russia close to the site of the former Chernobyl nuclear power plant has sparked fears of history repeating itself.

Neighbouring Lithuania is so concerned with neighbouring Belarus' first power station, that its government is offering those living on the border, medication against radiation.

Astravets power plant was launched on Tuesday with unresolved safety issues, says Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius who has described the project as "geopolitical".

Free iodine tablets will be offered by the Lithuanian government to around half a million people living close to the Belarus border to help protect them from radiation in case of an accident.

The power plant is just 30 miles away from Lithuania's capital of Vilnius.

Belarussian strongman president Alexander Lukashenko has opened the nation's first power station while up against historic protests to his claim of winning the presidential election in August which Western leaders and his critics say were fraudulent.

Leading up to the vote, Lukashenko described the plant as a "breakthrough into the future", given that it will now reduce the country’s need to import energy.

The Belarus energy ministry said: "The turbo generator of the first reactor of the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant was connected to the unified electricity system of the country."

But its location just 12 miles from Belarus' border with EU and NATO member Lithuania, has divided the two nations over the issue.

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Linkevicius wrote on Twitter that the EU and the international community "simply cannot stay indifferent to such cynical ignorance".

In response to the launch, Lithuania said it immediately stopped electricity imports from Belarus and Latvia has said it has also blocked imports of energy generated at the plant.­

Around 130,000 Lithuanian have already been given iodine from pharmacies in the Vilnius in recent weeks, Mindaugas Samkus, a spokesman for the Centre of Registers, a government agency, told AFP on Tuesday.

Iodine can be used to block the thyroid gland from radiation injury as thyroid cells are those most affected by radiation particles.

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Astravets' two reactors will eventually supply one-third of the country's energy requirements, the Belarusian energy ministry said in August.

Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom built the plant for $11 billion (£8.3bn) which was largely funded by a Russian loan.

Rosatom has dismissed safety concerns saying the plant fully meets international norms and recommendations.

In 1986, an accident at the Chernobyl power station in the territory of Soviet Ukraine contaminated around a quarter of Belarus' land.

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