MINSK, July 18 (Reuters) - Belarus and Russia on Wednesday signed a deal under which Russian companies will build the first nuclear power plant in the former Soviet republic with financing from Moscow.
The power plant contract, which has been the subject of prolonged negotiations and raised concerns in neighbouring Lithuania, was signed during a visit to Belarus by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medevedev.
“This is a large-scale project worth $10 billion in total,” Medvedev told reporters.
The new 2.4 gigawatt nuclear reactor will be built in Belarus’ western Grodno region by Russia’s Atomstroyexport within eight years.
Belarus, which is recovering from last year’s financial crisis that forced it to devalue its rouble by 65 percent against the dollar, hopes the project will strengthen its balance of payments and boost economic activity.
But the project has raised concerns in the European Union, where there are many calls to abandon nuclear energy after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.
It has, in particular, worried Lithuania as the plant will be located about 50 km (31 miles) from its capital Vilnius. Lithuania has also considered building its own nuclear power plant but the Belarussian project could undermine its feasibility.
Although it did not host the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Belarus has suffered more than any other country from the 1986 disaster which left almost a quarter of its territory contaminated and forced thousands of people to resettle. (Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Editing by Susan Fenton)