Belarus leader invites Japan to build nuclear plant

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MINSK, Oct 18 (Reuters) Belarus invited Japan to submit a proposal for the construction of the ex-Soviet state's first nuclear power station, estimated to cost 2.5-2.8 billion dollars, President Alexander Lukashenko was cited as saying today.

With virtually no energy resources of its own and prospects of increasingly expensive gas imports from Russia, Belarus has talked since last year of building nuclear power facilities.

That has intensified since the New Year, when Belarus quarrelled with Russia over the price and tax regime for deliveries of oil and gas.

''We consider Japan as a state that could build the safest reactor in the world,'' Lukashenko told the Japanese Kyodo news agency, according to Belarussian news agency BelTa.

''We would very much like to work with Japan, if it proposes a project that is the best in terms of costs, quality and other criteria,'' he said.

He said last week that preliminary work on the station should be completed next year, to enable the actual construction to go ahead.

''If we start building it in 2010, then I think in 2014 or 2015 we will finish the first reactor,'' he said today.

Russia's Atomstroyeksport has said that it is interested in building the plant and Belarussian media reported last week that the government was looking also at French and US firms.

Lukashenko has long spoken of diversifying energy sources in the country of 10 million and projects have included drilling for oil in Iran and Afghanistan.

REUTERS RSA BST0021

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