VILNIUS - The National Party Lithuania's Way and several other organizations staged a protest in Vilnius against the planned shutdown of Lithuania's Chernobyl-style Ignalina nuclear power plant, calling its closure a threat to economic stability and national security interests.
On Oct. 29 about 20 picketers lined up with signs and flags at the intersection of Gediminas and Vilnius Avenue across from the Novotel Hotel. Musicians pounded drums while representatives of the party collected petition signatures.
Lilijana Astra, president of the National Party Lithuania's Way, told The Baltic Times the petition aims to push the government to prepare a national energy strategy to tackle the large-scale inflation that, her party predicts, will occur as a result of the plant's scheduled shutdown in 2009.
"Our government currently has no plan. It's horrible ... All this time we are asking how we are going to pay for gas and electricity. Our elderly people ... can't afford any price increases. The government is acting against the principles of democracy," said Astra.
The protest came just two weeks after Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas both made public statements in support of extending the lifespan of Ignalina until a replacement nuclear power plant, planned to begin operation in 2015, comes on line.
"Most important is that we have a new power plant [scheduled] to be built, and it would be unreasonable, irrational to cut any further supply sources we are working on at present somewhere in the middle of the road. I think that any reasonable establishment or person will understand... and we may consider the period of extension so as to have us shift from one system to the other," Adamkus said in an Oct. 16 interview with Ziniu Radijas.
However, the European Commission has expressed doubt about making any changes to Ignalina's shutdown timetable, which was negotiated and incorporated into the country's accession treaty with the EU. The reason for the shutdown was the safety concerns that surrounded the Soviet-built plant.
EC President Jose Manuel Barroso said in his speech to the Lithuanian Parliament in March that "in theory, there is only one way to postpone the date of the Ignalina nuclear power plant's closure 's to receive the agreement of all Member States. But this is not possible."
Though Lithuania's accession agreement stipulates that the country shutdown the plant in 2009, one clause in the treaty states that Lithuania is able to apply to the EC for an extension until Dec. 31, 2012, "if the energy supply is disrupted in Lithuania."
The European Union has earmarked 865 million euros to spend on Ignalina over the 2007 - 2013 period, both for the plant's decommissioning, and for the modernization of Lithuania's energy production capacity after the plant closes, said Jurgis Vilcinskas, spokesman for the EC's representation in Lithuania.
However many people fear that without an EU agreement to extend Ignalina's lifespan, Russia will take control of Lithuania's energy market in 2009.
Signs at the protest read, "Our nation without energy is weak" and, "We are against oligarchs."
The Labor Party also supports keeping Ignalina open.
"The prices of energy after the closure of the plant will rise. Lithuania will be more dependent on Russian energy resources ... The price of gas is rising and at the end of this year Gazprom will review prices again," Labor Party advisor Sergeij Dobriakov told The Baltic Times.
The Lithuania Energy Institute and specialists from abroad are currently carrying out the third phase of a safety improvement program for Ignalina that began in 1995.
LEI Director Eugenijus Uspuras said the reactors are in good condition, there are no safety concerns, and the price of electricity produced at Ignalina is two times lower than that coming from other electrical plants in Lithuania.
"It's not a safety or technical issue, it's a political issue ... I support an extension, but don't believe it's politically possible," said Uspuras.