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Lithuania launches regional nuclear safety watchdog
by Staff Writers
Vilnius (AFP) June 4, 2012

A week after voicing concerns over Russian and Belarusian plans to build nuclear power plants by its border, Lithuania launched a regional nuclear safety watchdog Monday in line with a US effort.

The announcement by Lithuania's foreign ministry came at a time when the Baltic EU state is finalising a deal to build a nuclear power plant of its own by 2020 in conjunction with fellow ex-Soviet neighbours Latvia and Estonia.

"With this centre, we hope to work better in the domains of nuclear safety, fighting smuggling and nuclear terrorism," Lithuanian foreign affairs official Evaldas Ignatavicius told Lithuanian public radio on Monday.

He added that they would work with "the Baltic States, with our eastern neighbours and with our most important partner and centre co-founder, the United States."

A press spokesman for the US embassy in capital Vilnius, Jonathan Berger, confirmed the partnership to AFP, saying the "US is a strong supporter of the centre."

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite had earlier introduced the watchdog, formally known as the Center of Excellence for Nuclear Security, at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul in March.

"Following and supporting the US initiative to create a network of centers of excellence for nuclear security, this year such a center will be established in Lithuania," the Lithuanian presidency's website said in a summit statement.

The watchdog in the village of Medininkai on the Lithuanian-Belarus border -- the eastern edge of the European Union -- is expected to be certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), according to the foreign ministry.

Last week, Lithuania blasted plans by its neighbours to build nuclear power plants: one in Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, and a second Belarusian plant about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said last week that he feared the Russian and Belarusian projects would "bypass international safety and environmental standards."

Lithuania and Latvia, together with Estonia and Japanese company Hitachi, plan to build a nuclear power plant at Visaginas, in northern Lithuania.

The plant would replace the Soviet-era Ignalina facility, which was shut down in 2009.


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