* Russia has promised $10 bln loan for project
* IAEA says Belarus has “strong expertise”
VIENNA, July 2 (Reuters) - 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 last week.
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