Lithuania upset over soon-to-open Belarus nuke plant

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VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — The Baltic nation of Lithuania sent a protest note Tuesday to Belarus over a planned nuclear power plant close to their border that is scheduled to start operating in early November.

The Astravyets nuclear power plant, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, is to start production between Nov. 1-10, Belarusian operator Belenergo told Lithuania’s power transmission system operator Litgrid on Monday.

“We are categorically against such a hasty launch,” said Asta Skaisgiryte, an adviser to the Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. She confirmed the note had been sent.

During the construction of Astravyets, which has been plagued by accidents, stolen materials and the mistreatment of workers, Lithuania voiced its concern over the plant, which is being financed and constructed by Russia nuclear giant Rosatom.

In recent weeks, Lithuanian residents living near the Belarus border have been supplied with free iodine pills and evacuation drills have been held. The pills, which can help reduce radiation build-up in the thyroid, are in case of a radiation leak at Astravets.

Lithuania closed its sole nuclear power plant in 2009 and has forbidden the purchase of energy from Belarus.

The two former Soviet republics are already at odds after the Aug. 9 presidential election in Belarus that opposition members and Lithuanian officials say was rigged. The southernmost Baltic country has given refuge to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger in the election that handed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term after 26 years of authoritarian rule.

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