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Title:On the Belarusian energy dilemma: Economic, environmental and geopolitical considerations of the nuclear power option
Author(s):Keller, James W.
Advisor(s):Leff, Carol S.
Department / Program:Russian,E European,Eurasn Ctr
Discipline:Russian, E Eur, Eurasian St
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
nuclear power
energy dilemma
Abstract:The Belarusian government recently announced plans to construct the country’s first nuclear reactor near the village of Astraviec in the picturesque forest and lake region of northwestern Belarus. The ambitious announcement comes at a time of ever-increasing energy prices, regional Russian petro-imperialism and a souring of relations between Minsk and Moscow. Unsurprisingly, the proposed Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) project has generated stiff domestic resistance from a citizenry that continues to bear immense public health burdens emanating from the Chernobyl disaster, and which is wary of a potential repeat. The project has also generated doubts as to its purported capacity to reduce the country’s heavy dependence on imported energy resources, particularly natural gas from Russia, as well as to compete with the rates of other gas and oil-fired domestic power plants, calling into question the viability of its raison d’être. Moreover, with the first reactor not expected to come online until at least 2016 and the second to follow in 2018, a decade or more is needed before an accurate assessment of this response to Belarus’s energy challenges can be made. Nevertheless the project is economically unfeasible in light of Belarus’s current economic travails, its provisions for environmental protection are vague, and it is unlikely to result in the heightened independence from external energy providers which its proponents have postulated as legitimizing impetuses behind its construction. Bearing the sub-optimal, contradictory and illogical nature of the decision of opting for nuclear power in mind, alternative explanations for pursuing such a flawed energy policy must exist, since policy approaches appearing unfounded to outsiders are often grounded in subtle and sound governmental strategy. In the case of contemporary Belarus, I argue that one of these explanations is Lukashenka’s insistence on his newfound role as the defender of Belarusian sovereignty – sovereignty which he was ready and willing to surrender in the name of political expediency when Russian-Belarusian political integration via the Union State was a more distinct possibility. Moreover, it must be noted that in authoritarian regimes the flow of information can often be distorted and the truth confounded so as to please the president or other individual ultimately responsible for making key decisions, a factor which likely has influenced Lukashenka’s resolute stance on adopting and producing nuclear power domestically. At present such a stance is premature and should be abandoned. Belarus stands little to gain – both in the short and long terms – by integrating nuclear power into its energy portfolio. Adopting measures to reduce its energy intensity, capitalizing on its endowment of natural resources and expanding its energy networks with external actors will yield greater results for the country both now and in the distant future to come.
Issue Date:2010-08-20
Rights Information:Copyright 2010 James W. Keller
Date Available in IDEALS:2010-08-20
Date Deposited:2010-08

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