Decision to build NPP in Belarus to be based on public opinion

MINSK, September 1 (RIA Novosti) - A decision on whether to build a nuclear power plant in Belarus will be made with account for public opinion, the president of the former Soviet republic said Friday.

Alexander Lukashenko said the Belarusian economy needed a nuclear power plant, which would cut the country's dependence on supplies of energy resources by 24%. He said Belarus was studying NPP projects proposed by France and Russia.

"Belarus needs an NPP, but the issue will not be forced in the country. The decision will be made with due account for public opinion," said the authoritarian leader.

Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed Europe's last dictator in the West, but popular with many in his country for defending national interests, suggested the nation would support the idea of building a plant if it were a modern and safe facility.

"There are several NPPs using outdated technology in neighboring countries. Belarus is vulnerable in terms of security, and the Chernobyl accident testifies to that," the president said.

The president said the issue was being discussed, but that it could not be imposed on the people for economic, as well as psychological reasons.

Mush of Belarus was badly affected by the world's worst nuclear accident - the April 1986 explosion in the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl NPP in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. The radioactive fallout also contaminated large areas in Ukraine, Russia, northern Europe and other regions further from the disaster.

About 135,000 people were evacuated from within an 18-mile zone, which has left the surrounding area largely deserted to this day.

In April, Greenpeace said in a report that up to 600,000 people may die of cancers developed as a result of Chernobyl radiation exposure, a huge increase on UN figures, which put the excess cancer death toll at 9,300.

In Europe, countries are divided on nuclear power, which could help the European Union to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and meet its Kyoto targets, while satisfying growing electricity demand.

While also using renewables in electricity generation, some countries, in particular Finland and France, are building new, fourth generation, reactors which are considered economically competitive and safer, to replace old ones.

However, safety concerns prevail in other countries, including Germany and Spain, which have moved to phase out nuclear plants. Britain has yet to choose which way to move forward.

Russia's president called in June on the nuclear industry to assume a greater role in meeting the nation's energy needs and for security to be tightened at nuclear facilities.

Vladimir Putin tasked the government to bring the share of nuclear power in overall electricity production from the current 16% up to 25%.