MPs rethink pledge to decommission Ignalina plant

  • 2005-09-21
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Parliament members have urged the government to postpone shutting down the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, while Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas expressed scepticism about the possibility to amend Lithuania's commitments to the European Union.

Nearly half of Parliament supports prolonging operation of the atomic power plant, as well as continuing the state's nuclear power industry. Fifty-eight members from various parliamentary factions signed a draft project on the issue last week, which had been prepared by Liberal Democrat Julius Veselka, a member of Parliament's economy committee.

Commenting on his proposal, Veselka said he believed that Lithuania was in an advantageous situation for EU negotiations over closing the second Ignalina bloc. Recently, there has been a more favorable view of nuclear energy within the EU, he said, both for modernizing old plants and constructing new ones.

"The growth in oil and fuel prices proved the necessity for this shift," the MP said at a press conference Sep. 14. "The EU now allocates twice as many funds as before for nuclear-power system modernizations."

International experts had concluded that Ignalina's power plant was sufficiently safe, he emphasized. "Operations at the plant confirm that malfunctioning doesn't occur there more often than in other European nuclear plants," Veselka said.

He the government to negotiate with EU officials, arguing that Ignalina's second bloc should be kept running until 2016, as it takes at least 10 years to establish a new modern reactor.

But pre-accession agreements commit the country to shutting down Ignalia's last operating unit within four years.

Supporters of the Veselka-drafted project say the country's current energy system, which was mainly developed in the Soviet era, insures Lithuania's competitiveness in the international market. If nuclear power were absent, the Baltic state would not only lose its competetive advantage but also become highly dependant on the "kindness of other energy suppliers" such as Gazprom.

What's more, cheap nuclear energy would have to be replaced by more expensive natural gas.

"Following Ignalina's decommissioning, the price of electricity will shoot up by at least 0.10 litas. This means that Lithuania will be spending an additional 900 million litas per year," Veselka said.

But Brazauskas has expressed scepticism over the proposal. He declared that the world's recent increase in crude prices wasn't a sufficient enough argument to initiate talks with the EU.

"It isn't the right time to do this. We need to have a clear line and know why we are raising this question [of postponement], which seems rather strange without arguments and proof," the prime minister told journalists.

Economy Minister Kestutis Dauksys backed the Cabinet chief. "We can't expect financial assistance from the EU for decommissioning purposes later on if we violate our commitment now, seeking benefits at our own ends," he said.

If plant operations were put off, Lithuania would most likely have to cover all decommissioning costs itself, the minister added.

After 21 years of operation, the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant lost half its strength when one of two units was shut down on Dec. 31, 2004 in accordance with Lithuania's pre-accession agreement. The early closure was largely predestined, as the Soviet-style reactors - each with a capacity of 1,300 megawatts - were considered unsafe after the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Nevertheless, a security assessment showed that Ignalina's safety level was comparable to nuclear power plants in Western countries. o