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22 September 2021, 19:31

New Belarus-IAEA cooperation program in development

Viktor Karankevich
Viktor Karankevich

Belarus systemically cooperates with leading international organizations in the area of nuclear and radiation safety. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is traditionally one of the main partners. As it implements the national nuclear energy program, Belarus interacts with the International Atomic Energy Agency in every aspect of the agency's work. The importance of this partnership and prospects of joint work have been outlined by Belarusian Energy Minister Viktor Karankevich in an interview with BelTA.

As the head of the Belarusian delegation you took part in the 65th session of the IAEA General Conference in Vienna. Considering the complicated conditions caused by the pandemic, has the IAEA managed to accomplish the goals its charter specifies? Will the use of nuclear technologies be expanded?

Evaluating the time that has passed since the previous session, one can state that the International Atomic Energy Agency has successfully reached the key goals in promoting nuclear technologies in the spheres where their benefits are undeniable: power engineering, healthcare, agriculture, and other ones. The development of nuclear energy becomes particularly important considering the world's drive towards carbon neutrality and the projected growing global demand for electricity. According to the latest IAEA forecast, which was published in September 2021, the share of nuclear energy in the world's electricity output will rise to 12% by 2050. The use of nuclear technologies can bolster energy independence, provide economic growth, and improve living standards of the population for many countries.

Without considerable reserves of hydrocarbons Belarus also bet on the development of nuclear energy industry. The construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant is in the final stage. Once it is fully operational, the country will have a reliable, effective, and environmentally friendly source of energy for decades to come. It is a matter of pressing interest considering the instability of world markets and drastic changes of prices for conventional energy sources that we observe.

The Belarusian nuclear power plant construction project will ensure the national energy security and will bring about brand new opportunities for the development of the national economy, cutting-edge technologies, and thousands of new jobs.

In your speech you've stressed that safety is the overriding priority at all stages of construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant. What role does the International Atomic Energy Agency play in achieving this goal?

The International Atomic Energy Agency assists Belarus with resolving the most important issues concerning the realization of the national nuclear energy program and the development of infrastructure of nuclear energy and nuclear safety. In 2012-2021 Belarus hosted all the key missions the International Atomic Energy Agency recommends for the countries that are building their first nuclear power plant. The missions focused on evaluating the national nuclear energy infrastructure and the regulatory framework, on evaluating the construction site taking into account external impacts, preparedness for emergencies and response, inventorying and control of nuclear materials, analysis of operational safety. All the hosted missions have generated practical benefits: the resulting recommendations and proposals underlie our national action plans, which represent an important guideline in the work on realizing the national nuclear energy program.

Since the project to build the Belarusian nuclear power plant was launched, Belarus has been systemically cooperating with leading international organizations in the sphere of nuclear and radiation safety. In addition to the International Atomic Energy Agency those include the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG), and other ones.

It is no secret that partnership with ENSREG on stress tests of the Belarusian nuclear power plant is voluntary. Why is this work so important for Belarus?

In 2011 after the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant Belarus just like other European countries voluntarily undertook to arrange stress tests of the Belarusian nuclear power plant with assistance of European experts. The relevant mission took place in 2018 when virtually all the technical solutions were implemented at the first unit of the Belarusian nuclear power plant. Belarus openly and transparently works to fulfill recommendations resulting from the stress tests of the Belarusian nuclear power plant and implement the additional safety-enhancing measures the stress tests prompted. Let me emphasize once again: it is an absolutely voluntary process. Key measures of the national action plan based on the stress tests and focusing on additional systems and equipment for ensuring the safety of the Belarusian nuclear power plant have been fulfilled.

In early September 2021 ENSREG experts visited the Belarusian nuclear power plant as part of the second stage of a peer review of the national action plan, which was put together as a result of stress tests of the nuclear power plant. The experts mentioned considerable progress by the regulatory authority Gosatomnadzor and by the operating company BelNPP in fulfilling recommendations based on results of the stress tests and in realizing the national action plan based on the stress tests. The final revision of their report is being prepared. It will be published and will be available to the general public once it is ready.

Going back to the itinerary of your working trip to Vienna, one can say that a meeting with the IAEA director general was one of the key events. What directions of joint work with the agency will be prioritized in the near future?

Indeed, we discussed not only the current state of affairs and the effectiveness of joint work but also prospects of joint work. The drafting of a framework program to guide Belarus-IAEA cooperation in 2022-2027 was mentioned.

Belarus is primarily interested in the continuation of the International Atomic Energy Agency's technical aid projects for the sake of enhancing the potential of the Belarusian nuclear power plant's operating company and in the sphere of training personnel in the area of nuclear safety regulation. Apart from that, we count on the IAEA's technical aid with realizing the radioactive waste management strategy. Joint work to monitor consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophe is supposed to be continued.

The avenues of cooperation the draft program stipulates include the enhancement of the national infrastructure of radiation protection, the creation of a nuclear security training center in Belarus, the development of quality management programs in the area of radiology and radiation oncology. Belarus is also interested in the International Atomic Energy Agency's new initiatives concerning fight against infectious diseases and plastic environmental pollution. All these matters are being worked on. We hope work on reconciling the draft program will enter the final stage soon.

On the whole, during the meeting the IAEA director general mentioned Belarus' openness to cooperation with international organizations and assured that work with Belarus will continue.

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