Filmed by Richard Milne and Henry Foy. Produced by Daniel Garrahan
It's a typical late summer's day in Lithuania's capital, and people are enjoying themselves down by the river in Vilnius, watching tourists take hot air balloon rides over it's old town.
Just 40 kilometres from the Lithuanian capital, a problem lurks over the horizon. Just across the border, Belarus is building a nuclear power plant that according to Lithuania breaks international rules. And in the case of an accident, threatens Vilnius itself.
The Astravyets plant is being built by Rosatom, the Russian state-controlled group, and it's on track to start operations in 2019. Belarus presents the plant as a guarantor of its energy security, as well as a matter of national pride.
For Lithuania, the biggest problem is the plant's proximity to its capital. Astravyets is more than twice as close to Vilnius as Minsk, while almost 1 million Lithuanians live within a 100-kilometre potential evacuation zone versus half that number in Belarus.
Many in Vilnius suspect a political motive, with Russia seeking to unnerve Lithuania.
Astravyets nuclear power plant is a threat to our national security, public health, and environment security. In principle, the question is that the site for this nuclear power plant was selected in relation for the international conventions, international standards.
It's fair to say there's a good degree of frustration at the Lithuanian position amongst executives at Rosatom here in Moscow. They point out that the reactor is the most advanced anywhere in the world. And therefore it's the safest. And also it's the same as projects here in Russia, China, India, and Hungary.
That's a frustration that's shared in Belarus, who feel the Lithuanian objections are based more on geopolitics and commercial interests rather than safety. They also point out the international regulators have cleared this project.
So the bottom line is, there's not a huge amount of leverage for the Lithuanians. Belarus is not inside the EU. And there actually are no international laws that mandate how far away from a city or a border that a power plant has to be. So while more international condemnation and more pressure may slow down the project to force Belarus into some kind of compromise, it's hard to see how the Lithuanians can force their will on this project.
The spectre of Chernobyl also hangs over the project. On the Lithuanian side of the border, just 20 kilometres from Astravyets, the deputy headmistress of the local school talks about how the fear of an accident is affecting the local population.
Vilnius has tried to raise the pressure on Belarus and Russia by passing a law to stop the electricity being transported across Lithuanian territory. As Lithuania bids to gain energy independence from Moscow. But it's unlikely to stop the project.
For Lithuania, the stakes are high. It's not just a question of national security, but also geopolitics and energy independence from Russia. It's likely to be a long battle ahead. Richard Milne, Financial Times, the Lithuanian-Belarusian border.