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Congressional Record2017/03/28Senate | House | Extensions

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[Page H2468]
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        CONCERNS BREWING ABOUT NUCLEAR POWER PLANT CONSTRUCTION

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Shimkus) for 5 minutes.

Mr. SHIMKUS. Mr. Speaker, I rise to address concerns brewing in Lithuania and other Baltic States about the construction of a nuclear power plant. This plant is 12\1/2\ miles from the Lithuanian border and in sight of Vilnius, Lithuania's capital and largest city.

I speak here not only as a friend of the Baltic people and as a descendant of Lithuanian immigrants, but also as co-chair of the Baltic Caucus and chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment.

Like all my colleagues here, I am concerned about ensuring the security, integrity, and safety of nuclear projects in Europe and around the world. Here is the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, and that is where the power plant is being built.

This site was first chosen during the era of the Soviet Union but was halted after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, which contaminated a quarter of Belarus. Now, in 2019, Belarus is supposed to house a different Moscow-run nuclear power plant, this one run by the Russian state-owned company Rosatom.

This project is very environmentally sensitive. Both Lithuania and Belarus are signatures to the Espoo Convention. The Espoo Convention calls for member states to consult with bordering countries about such projects, to allow experts to review information about the projects, and to share information with bordering countries about safety and security of these projects.

Building a nuclear power plant is hard, especially when it is a country's first. That is why the International Atomic Energy Agency has recommended a six-step review process meant to prevent disasters like Chernobyl's and the more recent one in Fukushima, Japan. But Belarus has chosen to skip four of the six steps, including crucial steps, and ignore the people in the land of Lithuania.

There is a real concern that the main purpose behind the project is to grow Russian influence and power, especially over energy, in the European Union. The President of Belarus said that the Astravets plant and another Russian plant are a fishbone in the throat of the European Union and the Baltic States.

Nuclear power plants in sensitive areas should be discussed within the Espoo Convention. Nearly all of Lithuania is within 186 miles of the plant, which means that, if a disaster were to strike, the land of Lithuania could be affected. The country's drinking water could also be affected since the plant is supposed to draw water from the Neris River that supplies drinking water to Lithuania.

But incidents are occurring that cast doubt on Belarus' commitment to working with neighbors and ensuring the plant is safe. In 2016, four accidents occurred, and Belarus has failed to be upfront with Lithuania about any of them.

A 330-ton nuclear reactor shell was allegedly dropped from about 13 feet last summer. Belarus did not reveal anything about the incident until independent media reported it, and then downplayed it.

Building a nuclear power plant requires care in construction according to the most stringent standards with the utmost transparency, and for the best reasons. This plant fails on all four counts. It is in the wrong location. It has been irresponsibly handled.

Instead of transparency, we have seen stonewalling and obfuscation. Instead of making the most economic sense, this plant seems to make good geopolitical sense--and for Russia, not for Belarus.

Mr. Speaker, let me be clear. No one here objects to the safe, secure design, construction, and running of a nuclear power plant. But the people of Lithuania are firmly opposed to irresponsible attitudes toward nuclear power, particularly so close to their most populous city.

This concern makes sense. As chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and long-time observer of Eastern Europe, Mr. Speaker, I can assure you that the people of the United States have no better friend than the people of Lithuania.

Lithuanians have the right and the responsibility to ensure their and their children's environmental security. They should not be expected to accept inadequate or misleading information about a serious, environmentally sensitive project right on their borders. The Government of Belarus should respect the commitments it has made, including with its neighbors.

Until these issues are resolved, Mr. Speaker, I cannot fault the Lithuanian people for their concerns about the Astravets nuclear power plant. I share their concerns. I hope Belarus will calm their fears by allowing in international experts and representatives.

Belarus should also comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency's recommendations for the design, construction, and running of safe nuclear power plants. ____________________



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