Minsk, Nov 16: Ex-Soviet Belarus is likely to choose a Russian company to build a nuclear power plant intended to achieve energy independence from Moscow, a top expert was quoted as saying today.
Belarus, facing rising prices for gas imported from Russia, has been considering construction of a nuclear facility since last year and last month President Alexander Lukashenko said he hoped construction could get underway in 2008.
Plans call for the building of two 1,000 megawatt reactors, with a site still to be chosen in the country wedged between Russia and three European Union members.
''I believe that Russia will be chosen as the partner to build the nuclear power station,'' Vladimir Timoshpolsky, deputy head of Belarus's Academy of Sciences, was quoted as saying by local media.
''In terms of the technical and economic requirements, Russian equipment is in no way inferior to (French and Japanese) suppliers and it will cost us less.'' Timoshpolsky has been serving as a consultant to Belarus's government on the project, which officials have estimated will cost 3.5 billion dollar.
Russia's Atomprostroiexport firm has said it intends to take part in any tender, due to take place next year.
Belarussian officials have said they hope to finance the project with foreign borrowing.
Timoshpolsky said he expected credits to be made available under the terms of the vague ''union state'' agreement dating from the mid-1990s under which Belarus and Russia are to form a merged post-Soviet state.
Lukashenko, accused in the West of flouting fundamental human rights, has long spoken of diversifying energy sources in the country of 10 million. Projects have included extraction of oil in Iran, Afghanistan and Venezuela.
Debate has intensified since the New Year when Belarus quarrelled with Russia over the price and tax regime for deliberies of oil and gas.