Unit 2 of the Belarus NPP has been put into commercial operation after the acceptance committee signed an act of acceptance for operation of the start-up complex according to the press service of the Belarus Ministry of Energy. The decision followed positive conclusions of the supervisory authorities and the working commission of the NPP and the issue of an operating licence by the Ministry of Emergency Situations. According to contractual obligations, Rosatom now assumes responsibility for the operability of the equipment of the unit during the warranty period.

The Belarus NPP at Ostravets in Grodno comprises two VVER-1200 power units based on the NPP-2006 project The 2011 intergovernmental agreement on the construction of the plant provides for cooperation in the design, construction and turnkey commissioning of the units. Russia supported the project with a $10bn to cover 90% of the overall cost. The plant was issued a permit for pilot industrial operation of unit 1 in December 2020. It was connected to the grid in March 2021 and began commercial operation the following month. It was the first VVER-1200 unit to begin operation outside of Russia. Fuel loading was completed at unit 2 in December 2021. Unit 2 was first synchronised with the network in May and in June reached its design capacity. To date, the unit has generated more than 2 TWh of electricity. The plant’s two units (total capacity 2,400 MWe) will be able to provide about 40% of the electricity needs of Belarus.

The acceptance committee, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Pyotr Parkhomchik, included representatives of the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Gosstandart, the Ministry of Construction & Architecture, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Grodno Regional Executive Committee, the State Production Association Belenergo, as well as representatives of the Russian companies ASE, Atomstroyexport, Atomtekhenergo, and other experts.

The previous day, Belarus the President Alexander Lukashenko had raised the issue of compensation from Russia due to the postponement of the commissioning of the NPP. Initially, the commissioning of unit 1 was planned for 2018 and unit 2 for 2020. Earlier an incident in July 2016, Rosatom had to replace a reactor vessel, which could have been damaged. The equipment was replaced, although an inspection of the casing did not reveal any damage. In October 2020, the government of Belarus officially postponed the full commissioning of the NPP from 2020 to 2022.

“We have had a slight delay in the commissioning of the nuclear power plant due to the Russian side. Naturally, according to the agreement, we raised the issue of compensation with them. There is no need to hide this,” Lukashenko said in a meeting with the acceptance committee. “There was nothing extraordinary there. but questions were raised in connection with the fact that that the deadlines for commissioning the station were not met, and the Russian side bears responsibility for this.” Lukashenko noted that

Russia had responded by offering compensation options. “They offered us options of prising fresh nuclear fuel at the level required for Russian NPPs and extending the warranty period to five years for the main components.

Addressing the members of committee Lukashenko asked whether this was acceptable. He added: “Of course, should not unnecessarily strain the Russians: we had enough electricity and still have enough, but an agreement is an agreement”.

In response, the press service of Rosatom explained the postponement in commissioning the NPP by difficulties associated with the pandemic and the geopolitical situation. “The main stages of the construction of the Belarusian NPP occurred during a difficult period of a pandemic and a tightening of the foreign policy situation with increased sanctions risks. The project itself was implemented in a country that for the first time embarked on large-scale nuclear energy development. The goal was not to speed up the construction process at the expense of safety requirements,” the statement said.

The press service stressed that there were no unresolved issues in relations with Belarus. Rosatom also noted its readiness to take into account the wishes of the customer. “Given the complexity and life cycle of the project, it is normal practice for us to meet customers halfway on individual items on mutually beneficial terms. Taking into account the established trusted relationship with our Belarusian customer, we will not comment on the commercial aspects of the project.”

Lukashenko also said that the NPP project had been generally completed. “In principle, we have completed construction and commissioning work . The station is operating at full capacity, planned preventive and other measures are being carried out, as required by regulations. The safety of our station is the number one issue. There is nothing further to discuss here." He added that Belarus had always made strict demands in this regard and that Rosatom understands this very well. “We are a Chernobyl republic. Even the slightest leniency during the construction of NPPs is not permissible for us. This would be unforgiveable. That’s why there are such strict demands on our part”.

Image: The Belarus nuclear power plant