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       Energy and Environment 31/12/2009
Closure of Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania

The shutting down the Soviet-era reactor in Lithuania, considered similar to the one involved in the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, was one of the conditions for Lithuania’s access to the EU in 2004. Construction of new nuclear plant in partnership with Latvia, Estonia and Poland planned.


The news of shutting down the Soviet-era reactor in Lithuania considered similar to the one involved in the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 came not unexpected. Actually, the closure of Ignalina nuclear power plant, which came into effect on the 31st of December last year, was one of the conditions for Lithuania in order to join the EU in 2004.   


But this is not an aftermath situation for the Baltic country which is now dealing with a deep recession. The loss of its biggest source of electricity – covering nearly three-quarters of its demand – exposes Lithuania to the worst period since the breaking from the Soviet Union two decades ago. More than that, the shutdown jeopardises the country’s energy security as Lithuania is strained to turn to Russia and other neighbours to fill the power paucity.


“We are becoming even more dependent on (energy) imports from Russia,” says Andrius Kubilius, Lithuania’s prime minister which makes the country “very sensitive to anything that happens (politically) on Russia’s borders”. (Financial Times, January 2, 2010).


The solutions to this issue are involving an undersea cable between Lithuania and, on the one hand Sweden to connect the Baltic states to the Scandinavian power grid by 2016, and on the other hand to knit it with Poland.


Above all these alternatives, the Lithuanian government plans to build a new nuclear plant in partnership with Latvia, Estonia and Poland, project valued €3bn-€5bn. The potential investors could be all of Europe’s biggest nuclear power groups such as EDF of France, RWE of Germany and Iberdrola of Spain. Even though the forecasts are pretty bright according to Mr Arvydas Sekmokas, the energy minister, the new Ignalina will start producing electricity the earliest in 2018. Until then, Lithuania will be reliant on power supplies from other countries.  


Nevertheless, this decision has its pros and cons. In a last year referendum, more than 90% voted to extend the plant’s life until a replacement was built but low turnout invalidated the result. This is no music either for the ears of Ignalina’s director-general, Victor Shevaldin who thinks that it would have been easier to modernise the reactor rather than to shut it down. In his opinion, the latter situation is merely a political one.


“Ignalina is surrounded by oak forests on the banks of Druksiai, Lithuania’s biggest lake, close to the border with Belarus and Latvia. One of its two reactors was closed soon after EU entry, with a deadline of December 31 2009 set for switching off the other. It was one of the 12 surviving Chernobyl-style reactors and the only one outside Russia.” (Financial Times, January 2, 2010).



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