Lithuania to ask Belarus to switch nuclear plant to gas

FILE PHOTO: Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis speaks during the commemoration of victims and award ceremony of the Righteous Among the Nations at the Paneriai Memorial in Vilnius, Lithuania August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis will ask Belarus to convert its Russian-built nuclear power plant to gas provided by Lithuania's liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal and a planned gas link between Lithuania and Poland.

The nearly-completed nuclear plant has long been viewed as a threat to its safety and national security by Lithuania, which says it is not built to the highest safety standards, an allegation which is denied by Belarus.

Astravets, which is near the border with Lithuania, is being built by Russia's Atomstroyexport and financed with a $10 billion loan from by Moscow. It expects to have the first of its two 1.2 gigawatt VVER 1200 reactors online this year and the next one in 2020.

"It's up to Belarus to make a choice: to keep on having an energy sector which depends on the policies of a single country, or to make a strategic change," Skvernelis said on Monday, without naming Russia, the dominant supplier of energy to Belarus.

"Lithuania could be a good example and a useful partner for Belarus," he added.

Skvernelis, who has thrown his hat into the ring for Lithuania's president election in May, said that about 60 percent of the nuclear power plant's infrastructure could be reused for the proposed gas power plant.

The Lithuanian LNG terminal in Klaipeda mainly imports gas for domestic consumption, using between a fifth and a third of its annual capacity of 2.7 million tonnes of LNG, but hopes to double the flows once gas pipelines to Poland and Finland open after 2021.

(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Alexander Smith)