* Russia has promised $10 bln loan for project
* IAEA says Belarus has "strong expertise"
VIENNA, July 2 Belarus has made "important
progress" in preparing for the planned construction of a nuclear
power plant, the United Nations atomic agency said after its
team of international experts visited the former Soviet republic
Belarus and Russia agreed last year to press ahead with a
stalled plan to build a nuclear reactor near the eastern
frontier of the European Union, where there have been many calls
to abandon atomic energy after Japan's Fukushima disaster.
The plant, to be built in Belarus using Russian nuclear
technology, will be located 50km (31 miles) from the capital of
EU member Lithuania. Russia has promised to lend Belarus $10
billion to finance the project.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the
Vienna-based U.N. body, gave an upbeat assessment of
preparations so far.
"Belarus has made important progress in its development of
nuclear infrastructure for a nuclear power programme," the IAEA
said on its website at the weekend, referring to its Integrated
Nuclear Infrastructure Review mission to the country.
The infrastructure needed for introducing nuclear power
covers a wide range of issues, including the legal and
regulatory framework, safety and security standards, as well as
the necessary human and financial resources.
J.K. Park, a senior IAEA official, said the agency's team
made a series of recommendations for further action by Belarus
authorities, including legislative steps.
Belarus has "strong expertise" in radiation protection and
environmental monitoring, he added.
Japan's reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant
triggered by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year
raised a question mark over the future of atomic energy.
Germany, Switzerland and Belgium decided to move away from
nuclear power to increase their reliance on renewable energy.
An IAEA report in March, however, said that global use of
nuclear energy could increase by as much as 100 percent by 2030
on the back of growth in Asia, even though groundbreakings for
new reactors fell last year after Japan's crisis.
In a sign of how some countries are pressing ahead with
nuclear plans, three U.S., French and Russian companies are
expected to file bids on Monday to build two new units at the
Czech Republic's Temelin plant.
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by David Goodman)