EU considers power import restrictions over Belarus nuclear safety fears

BRUSSELS, Feb 11 (Reuters) - The European Commission is considering whether to restrict power imports from nuclear plants outside the European Union that flout the bloc’s safety standards, it said on Thursday, amid concerns over a nuclear facility in neighbouring Belarus.

Belarus’s Astravets nuclear power plant is located 50km away from Vilnius in Lithuania, where the government, pointing to multiple accidents at the site, says it does not meet EU-recognised safety standards.

The 2.4GW facility was built by Russia’s state-owned Rosatom and financed mostly by Moscow. It is due to launch commercial operations next month but started producing power in November, prompting Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - whose power grids have been integrated with a network serving Belarus and Russia since the Soviet era - to halt commercial power trading with Minsk.

The three Baltic states plan to connect their grids to the EU’s by 2025 in a bid to boost their energy security and reduce dependence on Russia. Belarus is a relatively small supplier by comparison.

Concerns over Astravets prompted EU countries to ask the Commission in December to assess ways to prevent commercial power imports from nuclear plants that do not meet the bloc’s safety standards.

European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said on Thursday the Commission was analysing the scope for such measures under international law.

The Commission “stands ready to apply increased pressure” if Belarusian authorities fail to address priority stress test recommendations from an EU review of the project in 2018, Simson told EU lawmakers.

EU nuclear safety regulators visited Astravets this week as part of a second review, results of which are due before the plant’s full commercial launch.

The European Parliament will vote on a non-binding resolution on Thursday calling for the launch to be suspended until safety concerns are addressed, citing emergency reactor shutdowns and equipment failure last year, and a lack of proof that authorities implemented the EU’s recommendations.

“(The) nuclear power plant is a clear and present threat to our national security,” said former Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, now an EU lawmaker.

The Belarus Energy Ministry declined to comment immediately but said Minsk would issue a statement following the European Parliament vote. (Reporting by Kate Abnett, additional reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)