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POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Lithuanians have been protesting against the planned shutdown
VILNIUS -- The reactor at the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP) switched itself off on Thursday afternoon according to media reports.
An automatic shutdown system was triggered for reasons that have yet to be made clear, though it is not believed that there has been any leak or radiation or other public hazard.
The last functioning reactor of Ignalina's two reactors recently underwent planned maintenance and was only brought back online on Sep. 28.
Regardless of how serious or trivial the reason for the automatic shutdown turns out to be, the timing could barely be worse for campaigners hoping to persuade the European Commission to grant a stay of execution to Ignalina.
President Valdas Adamkus made a calculated gamble on Oct. 16 when he said Lithuania could keep its Soviet-built Ignalina nuclear power plant open beyond its 2009 decommissioning date.
First of all, we shall evaluate the current circumstances, future prospects, and then go and negotiate using the language of arguments; I think this is reasoned and necessary," Adamkus said in a radio interview.
There are lots of reasonable people and they see the actual situation as it is, since we are an EU member state, and it is important for the EU not to ruin the whole economic life of one of its members. I think we will not be able to build [Ignalina II] by 2009; it might be expected that we will build by 2012 if we are not put back by vain discussions now," he added.
However, even 2015 is looking like an optimistic target given the wrangling between the Baltic States and Poland over their respective shares in the project. Meanwhile Latvia and Estonia are clearly losing patience.
"We have a new power plant to build and it would be irrational to cut any further supply sources we are using at present. I think that any reasonable establishment or person will understand we may consider a period of extension so as to have us shift from one system to the other," Adamkus said.
His words were doubly significant in that they came days after European energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs slapped down similar suggestions from economics minister, Vytas Navickas, warning: "The plant must be shut down as scheduled. There is a mechanism to compensate for decommissioning in place. The grant will be lost unless the obligations are met. Do not waste time on empty discussions."
Despite Piebalgs' clarity, in recent weeks calls for Ignalina to win a reprieve have been getting louder, not softer. However, the automatic shutdown incident could finally put an end to the prospect of Ignalina staying open.
A more likely scenario is that a new assessment by the Lithuanian government will put a hefty price tag on the cost of shutting Ignalina down in order to show the damage an energy deficit would do to the economy. The EU would then be asked to soften the blow by providing substantial extra funding.