VILNIUS - Baltic energy experts have announced that, according to a recent feasibility study, the government's proposal to develop a new nuclear power plant "will deliver substantial public benefit.
The results of the study, approved by the heads of the three companies and released at a press briefing in Vilnius on Oct. 25, said that "there is a clear need to replace the capacity that will be lost when the Ignalina [power plant] is finally closed [in 2009]."
The study, prepared by consultants from energy companies Dresdner Kleiwort, Freshfields and Colenco Power Engineering, predicted that a new nuclear facility could start operations in 2015.
The Ignalina power plant is scheduled for shut-down in 2009, following Lithuania's commitment to European Union membership talks. The government already closed one of the plant's two RBMK-type reactors on Dec. 31, 2004.
The EU considers the Ignalina reactors, which are the same type used in the notorious Chernobyl nuclear plant, unsafe.
Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors fear that Ignalina's closure will increase their dependency on oil and gas supplies from Russia, and believe that a new nuclear plant could minimize that dependency.
"The project is very attractive in legal, technological and financial terms. It promises good results for the region's energy system, and may insure the energy independence of the Baltic states," Rimantas Juozaitis, head of the state-owned energy company Lietuvos Energija, said at the briefing.
"Figures show that there will be a shortage of energy in the region and in Russia after 2015, and it could be difficult to purchase energy. That is why our steps were taken just in time. The nuclear plant will always be attractive, as the main fuel resources are in stable countries 's Australia, Canada, and South Africa," Juozaitis added.
He also noted that the nuclear plant was an economic "security guarantee" for the Baltics, as the increase of fuel prices have little effect on energy costs.
"If the price of nuclear fuel triples, the energy price increases by a mere 20 percent," Juozaitis said.
According to the feasibility study, overall investment cost will fall between 2.5 and 4 billion euros, depending on the type of reactor chosen and the number of units to be installed.
The three participating energy companies will reportedly share the main costs of the project, but other sponsors may also be involved.
"I am convinced that the three companies are able to implement the project. It is a very good project, and everyone wants to be part of it. Many big European companies will talk with us about the possibility of joining," Sandor Liive, chairman of the board at Estonian Energy, said at the briefing.
German energy giant E.ON, Czech energy company CEZ, the French Areva Group and the Japanese company Mitsubishi have already expressed interest in the project.
The latter two are listed among 11 potential nuclear reactor suppliers for the new plant, including Hitachi, General Electric, Westinghouse, Atomstrojeksport, and Atomic Energy among others.
The study proposed that a new plant would be built at the existing Ignalina site, stressing that current Ignalina employees could make up a majority of the new facility's required 400-500 person staff.
Projected capacity of the new nuclear plant is 800-1,600 megawatts, compared with the current 1,300 megawatt maximum capacity at Ignalina.
The feasibility study will next be presented to the three Baltic states' governments, which are to make the final decision on construction of the plant.
Lithuania, for one, is likely to approve the project. Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas recently said he had no doubt that a new nuclear power plant would be built, while President Valdas Adamkus also expressed support for the idea.