• 2006-01-18


Lithuania really wants the country to remain a nuclear power. it's one of the most nuclear energy-dependent countries in the world, and leaders are at pains to see their mega-kilowatt production capacity vanish. Rising energy prices and Russia's new prickliness toward its neighbors have only strengthened these convictions in recent weeks, to the point that the government is now openly suggesting that the second unit of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant should remain operational after 2009, despite pledges to the contrary.

At the same time, the central forces behind this push 's Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Economy Minister Kestutis Dauksys 's are abuzz with activity as they try to muster support, both financial and political, for a new nuclear power plant. Recently they sent out query letters to several dozen top nuclear engineering firms around the world, and next week they will hold an international conference on the topic. In the meantime, Brazauskas is more frequently dropping hints that 2009 would be too early to shut down Ignalina.

As one eurocrat was quoted this week: "No one in the commission really understands what Lithuania wants. One day it seems that Vilnius plans to build a new nuclear power station. The next day it turns out that they want to extend the life of the old reactor."

In other words, Lithuania wants to have their cake and eat it too. However appealing, this is myopic and self-defeating. If this keeps up, Lithuania's leadership will commit an embarrassing 's if not damaging 's mistake of judgment. By signing the accession agreement with the European Union, Lithuania obligated itself to close down Ignalina 's a plant that, due to the construction similarities it shares with the Chernobyl plant, gives many European bureaucrats the creeps. They want it closed, and there are no 'buts' about it 's even Moscow's heavy-handedness.

Unfortunately, as the two main advocates behind this are a populist Laborite running the Economy Ministry and a worn-down prime minister trying to salvage his government, chances are that Lithuania's leadership might push too hard. In all likelihood, President Valdas Adamkus, who wants to see Lithuania retain the peaceful atom, will step in to bring the populist politicians to their senses, though the way Brazauskas and Dauksys are talking that might not be enough.

It would appear that, given its experience with nuclear energy and support from neighbors, Lithuania has a chance to get a new nuclear power plant. It might not come about for another decade 's leaving the country without nuclear power for several years 's but that is the risk it will have to take. Slowly but surely, nuclear energy is making a comeback, and Lithuania is in a good position to benefit. Sending the wrong signals about Ignalina, however, will only rub Brussels the wrong way and make it all the harder to win approval for a new plant.