Adamkus and Estonian opposition throw new hurdles in path of atomic power plant

  • 2007-08-22
  • By TBT staff
VILNIUS - Lithuania's much-ballyhooeddream of building a new nuclearplant has taken a couple of newtwists after President ValdasAdamkus hinted that Ukrainecould have a role in the nascentproject and a leading Estonianpolitical party suggested holding areferendum on whether the countryshould continue participating.While in Kiev for a brief visit,Adamkus reiterated thatLithuania was willing to take onany "competent partner" in the 4billion euro project that aims toreplace the current facility inIgnalina, which is slated to closein 2009.

 "Ukraine asked right awayabout the chances for Ukraine totake part in the construction ofreactor number three 's whetherthere are certain criteria, have wealready made our choice,"Adamkus told journalists."My answer was very clear 's itis absolutely open for every competentpartner wishing to participatein the construction, the mostimportant thing is that everythingshould be very clean, openand we are announcing the tenderwithout any restrictions whatsoever,"he said.Adamkus was instrumental inhelping Ukraine escape a politicalcrisis in 2004 and takes an activeinterest in that country's attemptsto integrate with the West.The announcement surprisedmany leaders, both at home and inneighboring countries, particularlygiven the extreme politicalinstability in Ukraine.Lithuanian Prime MinisterGediminas Kirkilas expressedcaution, saying any decision onUkraine would have to be made bythe project's four participants 'sthe Baltics and Poland 's whichhave largely agreed on ownershipstakes (though a final deal has notbeen signed).

Kirkilas did admit thatUkraine could participate in theplant project by buying electricity.Latvian Foreign MinisterArtis Pabriks said it was "premature"to discuss involving newpartner-countries. He recalled thethree-sided agreement signed bythe Baltic states' utility companies,saying that a new partnercould only join if all three countriesgave their approval.As regards a new country joining,he said, "Both positive andnegative aspects are possible here.Of course, the project can becomelarger if there are more partners.At the same time, problems withcoordination are possible."Pabriks stressed that the visionfor a new atomic plant "shouldstart with strategic thinking 'swhat do we want, how do we wantto achieve it and what will it be.""These are the three mainquestions. In my opinion, there isno use in increasing the numberof partners without going forwardstep by step," he said.

As far as strategic thinking,in Estonia there are forces givingpause for this very reason. TheCenter Party, a powerful oppositionparty, has proposed holding anational referendum on the country'sparticipation in the nuclearplant, which will be built innortheastern Lithuania.The party, working in conjunctionwith the People's Unionand the Green Party, both ofwhich are also in the opposition,has proposed holding the referendumon March 2, 2008.Valdur Lahtvee, a GreenParty MP, said that PrimeMinister Andrus Ansip does nothave the mandate on behalf ofEstonia to sign onto an atomicpower plant agreement. He wasquoted as accusing the governmentof being in the pocket ofEesti Energia, the state-ownedutility, and that any role inLithuania's nuclear power ambitionswould be to the detriment ofEstonia.

Commenting on the referendum,which must be approved bya majority in Estonia'sParliament, Lithuania's Kirkilashas said he is confident that ifEstonia held a referendum theresult would be a "yes" vote."As far as I know, the[Estonian] public's attitudetoward nuclear energy is similarto that in Lithuania, Poland andLatvia," Kirkilas told ZiniuRadijas on Aug. 16.Kirkilas said the proposed referendumwould unlikely have anaffect on the project's implementation."Much of the work isalready in the hands of energycompanies, and this is the bottomline. Laws have been passed, andbasically all political conditionshave been created," he said.The new plant, which couldhave either one or two reactors, istargeted to come online in 2015,though there are doubtswhether that deadline could bemet.