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Rosatom begins fuel loading at first Belarusian nuclear plant

MINSK, Belarus (AP) – Loading of nuclear fuel started Friday at Belarus’ first nuclear plant, which has raised concern in neighboring Lithuania.

The plant in Astravets near the border has been built by Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom. Rosatom and Belarusian authorities have insisted that the 1,200-megawatt reactor is safe, but Lithuania has described the plant as a threat to the environment and public health.

The loading of uranium fuel will last about three months before the reactor starts generating electricity. Rosatom said the construction of the plant’s second reactor will be completed by mid-2022.

The construction of a nuclear plant in Belarus was planned during Soviet times, but the plans were canceled after the April 26, 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in neighboring Ukraine. Belarus suffered badly from the world’s worst nuclear accident that rendered vast portions of its land uninhabitable and unsafe for agricultural production.

The Chernobyl explosion forced 138,000 Belarusians closest to the plant to be resettled, while 200,000 others living nearby moved out voluntarily.

The radiation fears caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe have gradually subsided, and there haven’t been any protests against the nuclear plant’s construction in Belarus.