At least three people are reported dead following an explosion at the Kosovo A power station just outside Pristina on Friday.
The powerful explosion in Obilic/Obiliq could be heard throughout the Kosovo capital, some six miles away. Residents in Obilic/Obiliq, meanwhile, reported trouble breathing amid heavy smoke.
Fadil Ismaili, Minister of Economic Development, said authorities are investigating what happened, but that the public was no longer in danger.
“Right now a robot has entered the area, and our people will come up with concrete information,’ he said.
The President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga expressed grief over the tragedy and thanked emergency crews for coming to the aid of victims and their family members.
Kosovo A is the oldest of two sister power stations and it supplies more than 90 per cent of Kosovo’s electricity. The plant is more than 40 years old and is considered one of the worst air polluters in the Balkans.
With decaying and rusting machinery, the 354 MW power station pumps out lignite smoke and is prone to breakages.
A 2010 EU report warned: ‘There are high health and safety risks for the operators and for the maintenance workers due to breakdown of plant systems and structures, neglected maintenance and poor housekeeping.’
A worker was killed during an explosion in 2008.
Kosovo A is slated for decommissioning in 2017. The government, with World Bank support, is planning to replace it with a new lignite plant, Kosovo C.
Work on Kosovo C is tentatively set to begin in 2015, but no decision has been made. Both the decommissioning and the construction of the plant have been delayed multiple times.
Meanwhile, Kosovo A’s sister plant, Kosovo B, is being upgraded to meet EU emissions standards.
The plan for a new plant has generated opposition from civil society and environmentalists, who say Kosovo should instead focus on getting its power from renewables and increasing energy efficiency.
They point to figures from the World Bank as a key reason to abandon lignite as Kosovo’s main source of energy. The World Bank found that air pollution causes more than 800 early deaths and economic damages of around 100 million euro each year in Kosovo.