VILNIUS - The Energy Ministry has announced nuclear fuel storage facilities to store the nuclear fuel from Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP) will not be completed until May 2011, well after the plant is shut down at the end of 2009.
The original date for completion was to coincide with the shutdown of the plant, but now the fuel will have to remain in the reactor, which is expected to cost around 200 million litas (58 million euros) per year until the storage facility is built.
In 2003 Germany company Nukem Technologies (NT) agreed to build the storage for the radioactive fuel containers, but various technical and administrative obstacles to the project caused the completion date to be extended, Energy Minister Arvydas Sekmokas said at a press conference.
Sekmokas said the main reasons for the delay were not because of the contractor, but because of "our internal situation."
"The largest reason for the delay was the situation internally 's permits had to be gathered from nine different institutions with all approvals needed at the municipal level and many obstacles appeared," he said.
"It was real and artificial barriers. Discussions about whether it would be a private atomic plant or not," was a contributing factor, he added.
NT chairman Tony Eckford said bureaucracy coupled with the project's unprecedented technical challenges were to blame for the delays.
"This is a very complex project and the reactors in Lithuania are the largest of their type in the world, so we are working in an area which no one has tackled on this scale. There have been delays, but we have reached the stage where we can deliver," he said.
While the storage facilities are being built, the fuel will be stored in the reactor.
"The used fuel cassettes will be put into refrigeration and when the time comes, they will be moved to the permanent storage," Sekmokas said.
"Part of the fuel will not be able to be taken from the reactor because of the delays and this will mean higher costs in this regard. If the work is not completed on time, there will be serious responsibilities for the contractors, including financial responsibility for the completion of the work."
The delays will mean an elongated shut down for the plant. Sekmokas said that the added costs could be laid at the feet of the previous government.
Vince Novak, Director of the Nuclear Safety Department at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said that the delays would be costly, but are not a safety risk.
"This [safety issue] is not really related at all to 2009 's this is a linkage that is being artificially created. This is a facility that does not need to be completed at the end of 2009 's Ignalina has a decommissioning plan that includes gradual de-fueling of its reactors and there is a storage capacity to proceed with this plan, so there won't be any effect. There will be no delays," he said.
The Energy Ministry plans to create a separate body charged with the decommissioning of INPP.
Nukem Technologies signed an agreement with the local construction company Ranga IV. Asked whether the current Ranga IV financial difficulties would affect the project, Eckford said that the situation is being managed.