VILNIUS - Last week's European Council meeting in Brussels has given fresh hope to Lithuanian leaders that the country will be able to keep Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant open beyond 2009, according to reports.
Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said that the ideas expressed in the summit's final conclusions on energy and climate policy had given Lithuania a strong argument to ask the EU to allow the Ignalina plant to remain operational beyond its scheduled closure at the end of 2009.
"The conclusions mention a policyâ€¦consistent with sustainable development. That is very important for Lithuania, because closing the INPP contradicts it," the Kauno Diena quoted Kirkilas as saying.
"The INPP closure will push up energy costs, and there will be a great impact on inflation, which will keep us from achieving the underlined goal of sustainable development. The idea of energy security policy and sustainable development is advantageous to us, and it changes the situation," he said.
Previous reports from Brussels suggested that many top EU officials are dead-set against any extension of the Soviet-built plant, which has design flaws like the Chernobyl reactor. EU countries have paid hundreds of millions of euros to ensure safety at and timely closure of the facility, and many are reluctant to grant leeway.
Nevertheless, Kirkilas expects that the decisions taken in Brussels will open up the way for consultations.
Kirkilas said that it was time for Lithuania's special negotiator, Aleksandras Abisala, to start work on persuading the EU to extend the life-span of the Ignalina plant.
The prime minister said that he was "encouraged" by conversations with leaders of some countries, and particularly with French President Nicolas Sarkozy's statement that nuclear energy could be an alternative to supplies from third countries.
President Valdas Adamkus was also optimistic after the meeting. "The [summit's] conclusions took into consideration Lithuania's opinion and interests," Kauno Diena quoted the head of state as saying.
The president emphasized that the summit's conclusions mentioned isolated energy markets 's a point that was lobbied hard by the Baltic states (see story on Page 12) 's and the need to protect their interests.
Adamkus ruled out the possibility of asking the EU to provide additional funds to help mitigate the effects of the INPP closure instead of extending the plant's life-span. "I think this issue should not be brought up at all," he said.
Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, who also took part in the European Council meeting, mentioned that Lithuania could seek increased financial assistance from the EU to ease the impact of the switch-off rather than trying to win an extension, according to Kauno Diena.