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Experienced partner sought for new nuclear power project

  • 2009-12-17
  • From wire reports

VILNIUS - Lithuania has begun the official search for investors to build and run a new nuclear power station to replace the existing Ignalina Soviet-era plant due to close by year-end, reports LETA-AFP. The state is seeking one or more investors with solid experience in the implementation and running of nuclear power plants. The tender to participate is open for proposals until January 29, 2010.

The winning bidder will receive a majority stake in the new plant, partnering with Lithuania’s national power firm and those of Latvia, Estonia and Poland, who are also involved in the project. Lithuanian authorities earlier this year identified seven companies who could be in the running: Sweden’s Vattenfall, Germany’s RWE and E.ON, France’s Suez-GDF and EDF, Italy’s Enel and Spain’s Iberdola. Other companies said to be interested include France’s Areva, Spain’s Endesa, General Electric-Hitachi and Westinghouse of the U.S., Britain’s Nukem, Atomic Energy of Canada, and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Plans for the new plant, to be located at Visaginas in eastern Lithuania, have been in the works for several years.

Construction costs are expected to be from 3 – 5 billion euros. Lithuania pledged to close Ignalina by Dec. 31 this year as part of the terms of the country’s entry into the EU in May 2004. One of the plant’s reactors was already shut down in December 2004. The original target date for opening the new plant was 2015, though after numerous delays, the expected opening should be by 2018-2020. The energy output is planned at 3,200 megawatts. There are worries now about a looming power shortfall because Ignalina provides the bulk of the country’s electricity. There are also warnings that prices for power could surge next year in Lithuania due to the plant’s closure, as the replacement electricity will most likely come from higher cost sources. In working on alternatives, Lithuania plans to link up to the Polish and Swedish electricity grids, which would also enable it to import power from elsewhere in Europe, though these are also long term projects. It has also signed a supply deal with Estonia and has held talks with Russia and Belarus.

Lithuania says it will require additional funds from the European Union for the closure of Ignalina and for the new links with Western Europe, reports news agency ELTA. President Dalia Grybauskaite after meeting with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, said that “For us, the most important thing in the new economic concept will be energy independence, energy links with the West. This means that Lithuania will require that the financial perspective provide for funds for the continued maintenance of the closure of the Ignalina plant and links with Western Europe, as we have already received funds for the link with Sweden.” Van Rompuy, who is to assume his new duties on Jan. 1, 2010, said that he was visiting EU member states in order to understand their situation better, and promised to cooperate with the leaders of other EU member states actively when carrying out his duties.

He also voiced his expectations that Lithuania, together with other EU member states, would overcome its energy crisis as soon as possible. The Lithuanian nuclear project is one of several in the region. Poland plans to build its own plant by 2020. Russia wants to construct one by 2016 in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad. Belarus is also planning a plant by 2016.