VILNIUS -- European commissioner for energy Andris Piebalgs has urged Lithuania not to even think about continuing the operation of the Ignalina nuclear power plant.
Lithuania's Economy Minister Vytas Navickas had earlier hinted that the European Union might allow Lithuania to continue operating the Ignalina nuclear power plant through 2009, until a new nuclear plant is built.
Navickas appealed to the fact that once the plant is shut down, the prices of electrical energy will go up by 40 percent and 75 percent of Lithuania's energy sector will depend on natural gas from Russia.
Lithuania has undertaken to decommission the nuclear power plant in Ignalina in 2009 and, together with the Baltic countries and Poland, is planning to build a new nuclear power plant, which will be put into production around the year 2015. That leaves a gap of at least six years 's and likely longer - in which Lithuania will face an energy crunch.
"I cannot understand the arguments of the [economy] minister," responded Piebalgs.
"The plant must be shut down as scheduled, as this is provided for in Lithuania's accession agreement.
"Besides, there is a mechanism to compensate the decommissioning in place. The grant will be lost unless the obligations are met. And finally, the decommissioning date is no surprise for Lithuania," Piebalgs told the Kauno Diena.
"Do not waste time on empty discussions," he warned.
The European commissioner also urged Lithuania to make haste in implementing the project on construction of a new nuclear power plant to replace the current facility. "By the time of elections next year, the government must make a lot of important decisions on this matter," the commissioner said.
Piebalgs is positive that the matters of building the new power plant and the so called "power bridge" linking the grids of Lithuania and Poland should not be "mixed together."
"The bridge primarily has a heavy political significance, as if the Baltic countries do not have one, they will not be connected to the EU's common energy market. Commerce here comes second," the commissioner said.
He refused to be drawn on whether he felt Poland or Lithuania was more at fault for the failure to get a commitment signed at last week's Vilnius Energy Conference.
Piebalgs also said that he would ask Russia's Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko in Moscow next week whether the Druzhba pipeline into Lithuania would ever be reopened.
"I simply want to know, as so far Russia has not officially informed either us or Lithuania about the destiny of the oil pipeline," the European commissioner said.