POWER ME UP: Without a power grid connected to Poland, Lithuania will experience a significant energy shortage once the Ignalina plant is shut down. Some Lithuanian groups are now petitioning to have the life of the plant extended.
VILNIUS - Several politicians and a civil action group has started various procedures aimed at ultimately extending the life of the Ignalina atomic power plant, slated for closure at the end of 2009, in what appears to be a desperate attempt to force Brussels' hand.
The Central Electoral Committee on Feb. 6 registered a civil initiative group whose sole aim was to adopt a law that would delay the closure of Ignalina's second reactor, slated for December 2009.
Members of the group will have two months to gather 50,000 signatures necessary to present a draft law for parliamentary deliberations.
Meanwhile, Arvydas Akst-inavicius, head of left-leaning Idea Institute, announced on Feb. 2 that he planned to form an initiative group that would try to collect 300,000 signatures necessary for a referendum.
Aloyzas Sakalas, a member of European Parliament, has said that the EU tends to pay close attention when a nation expresses popular will, and that a referendum on the Ignalina plant, if supported by voters, would be a weighty argument in Lithuania's favor.
Lithuania is obliged to close the second reactor as part of its pre-accession agreement with the European Union. The first reactor was shut down in 2004, but closure of the second 's which has an output capacity of 1,300 megawatts 's threatens to make the Baltic state vulnerable to energy crises.
Brussels, however, is skeptical about any extension. The EU energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs has previously opined that the second reactor had to be mothballed.
"The plant must be shut down as scheduled, as this is provided for in Lithuania's accession agreement. Besides, there is an existing mechanism to compensate the decommissioning. The grant will be lost unless the obligations are met," Piebalgs said last year.
He did, however, admit that Lithuania was isolated from the grid but that the best solution to that problem was building the so-called power bridge with Poland.
Remarkably, several Lithua-nian MEPs have refrained from slamming Piebalgs, a Latvian, and instead directed their criticism at the ruling government.
Vytautas Landsbergis, an MEP and former president, expressed surprise at Lithuanian officials insouciance.
"There was plenty of public reasoning and urging that the government prepare a study about the complicated situation with regards to energy after the closingâ€¦ and address the European Commission and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development with it," he told the Verslo Zinios daily.
"However, after the study was finally conducted and sent to Brussels, it turned out that the government had made a contrary conclusion 's i.e. that completely closing the Ignalina nuclear plant would not cause problems, and Lithuania would be provided for when it came to energy," Landsbergis said.
Danute Budreikaite, also an MEP, stressed that Piebalgs alone cannot make a decision on the matter.
Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas on Feb. 7 joined the calls to extend Ignalina's lifespan after the amendments to the nuclear power plant law were passed by Parliament.
"We will keep our commitments and close the reactor but will extend its operation for the time period for which we will have no alternative power supplies, which we cannot replace with anything else, because we will be completely dependant on our known neighbor or on gas or electricity import," Kirkilas said.
The prime minister said he hoped that the European Commission would take into consideration the force majeure situation in Lithuania that will leave the Baltic state dependent on Russia's electricity come 2010.
Kirkilas said that if the plant were allowed to operate to 2015-2016 there would be sufficient time to bring a planned new reactor online.
Though the government is sticking to its 2015 deadline for a new power plant, which will be built next to the existing facility in Ignalina, many analysts believe that the realistic launch date for a new plant is 2020.