Green protesters on April 26 standing near Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius’ office with posters stating “I’m for Lithuania without nuclear energy!” and “Think how you will explain it to your children!”
VILNIUS - Now, when after the U.S. Navy Seals’ action Osama bin Laden doesn’t feel so good, the most visible person menacing the EU territory’s security, at least in the opinion of Lithuanians, is the alpha-dog Russia: construction of the infrastructure for would-be Russian-built nuclear plants in Russia’s Kaliningrad and the Belarusian Ostrovets’ region, both situated on Lithuanian borders, is going at full speed. It is the first time in the world’s history that nuclear plants are being built on the border and close to densely populated areas, without the assent of the neighboring country. Both nukes, unlike the Ignalina nuclear plant, which used water from a lake, will use the waters of rivers (which will change their ecosystem) flowing into Lithuania for cooling the reactors.
Lithuanian officials still speak about the intention to construct a new Lithuanian nuclear plant in Visaginas, Ignalina region, situated on the border with Belarus, but after the Fukushima accident, this idea lost its nation-wide support, according to social polls, and its perspective is still vague, though on April 29, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry received a letter from Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, supporting the Ignalina nuke’s construction idea (the letter mentions “serious discussions” with “U.S. industry” over this idea). Some experts think that electricity lines to the West and other alternatives to Russian supplies are more sane ideas than the expensive construction of a new Lithuanian nuke (and, after 80 years, the expensive closure of it). Construction of any nuclear plants in Lithuania or nearby is in conflict with current Lithuanian public sentiment – it was obvious on April 26, when Lithuania marked the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
Twenty five years ago, the Soviets conscripted tens of thousands of young men (including Valdis Zatlers who is president of Latvia now) to send them to Chernobyl for liquidation of the catastrophe’s consequences. More than 7,000 were conscripted from Lithuania (some 1,000 of them are already dead). They were not told what they were conscripted for then. After 25 years, on April 26, some of them gathered in the Lithuanian parliament for a commemoration of the Chernobyl disaster. Algirdas Simenas was a Soviet army major and a military helicopter pilot stationed in Kaunas in 1986. His unit was told to move to Ukraine. Simenas said that he and his colleagues thought that they were heading to Odessa, from where they would be transported to Libya “to help the Libyans fight the USA.” However, they were ordered to stop near Chernobyl.
The Simenas-piloted helicopter flew 25 times over the reactor of Chernobyl’s nuke to pour water on it. “It was a very high temperature over the reactor – some 300 degrees Celsius. Trees around the nuclear plant were already brown,” Simenas said. No anti-radiation protection was given to them. Simenas and his colleagues, on their own initiative, used lead plates on which they were sitting during the flights over the reactor to minimize the damage to their health. Anyway, Simenas was vomiting and bleeding after those flights and later he had problems with his thyroid.
Speaking in parliament during the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, Pranas Paskevicius, chairman of the organization of veterans who took part in the liquidation of the Chernobyl catastrophe, pointed out that the Lithuanian state passed most of the social care functions related to those who went through Chernobyl to municipalities, which have little resources for it. Regardless, the Lithuanian state still pays a lump sum to the family members of such veterans in case of death. “The laws adopted by you allow us only to have a nice funeral,” Paskevicius said, speaking bitterly from the parliament’s rostrum to MPs.
After the commemoration, an anti-nuclear protest demonstration started near the Lithuanian parliament’s building. Some 300 mostly young environmentalists went from the parliament building, via Gedimino Avenue, to the building of the office of prime minister protesting against plans to build nuclear plants in Lithuania, Russia’s Kaliningrad and Belarus. The latter raises the biggest anger due to its close proximity to Vilnius. The posters of protesters stated the following: “No to the Belarusian nuclear plant!”, “Do you know where to evacuate?”, “I want to have a child with one head. And you?”
“Lithuania is too small to be framed with three nukes. The Belarusian nuclear plant will use the water of Neris River, which flows through Vilnius, to cool its reactors. Why do they build nuclear plants close to state borders? They expect that the wind will flow not onto their territory,” Juozas Dautartas, chairman of the Lithuanian Green Movement Party, told journalists at the protest.
Meanwhile, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko said on April 26 that he will not surrender to the protests of Lithuania and the rest of the EU on the issue of the Belarusian nuke (he also took the opportunity of commemoration of the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster to describe the still pro-EU Ukraine as a “lousy” country and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and other Europeans as “goats,” which is a big insult, according to Russian criminal jargon). Kubilius said that the Baltic States will not buy electricity from experimental reactors (reactors of this type have never been built before) in Kaliningrad and Belarus. Lithuania will seek an EU-wide boycott of these two Russian-built nukes. However, Povilas Vaisnys of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency states that such threats would be difficult to implement technically.
Political pressure is needed from the EU, but the EU institutions are dragging their feet at the moment: on April 7, the European Parliament failed to pass a resolution to demand stress tests on the nukes and a moratorium for new nuke construction in the EU and its neighborhood, when 264 MEPs voted in favor of the resolution, 300 against it and 61 abstained.
Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas stated that one of his priorities will be to stop the construction of the Belarusian nuke near Vilnius and convince Belarusians to participate in construction of the new Lithuanian nuke. On April 27, he was visited by Adam Kovalko, head of the Belarusian Ostrovets region. “The construction of a railway [towards the nuke] and the town for the plant’s employees are underway. If such a secure nuclear plant would be built in Japan, there would be no accident there. Many Poles, also from Lithuania, come to our region to work on the construction of the nuclear plant’s site,” Kovalko said.
Alfonsas Augulis, who was born in that Belarusian region, which ethnically and politically used to be Lithuania for many ages, and who is a former Lithuanian charge d’affaires in Belarus (in 1993-1994) and current chairman of the Lithuanian community made up of emigres from that region, took part in the Zuokas-Kovalko meeting in the Vilnius municipality office. He said that the people of Ostrovets are brainwashed by Lukashenko’s propaganda on the nuke issue. “People have no information. There is even nobody to discuss it with,” Augulis said. He added that there is a possibility that Poles from Lithuania may want work in the Ostrovets construction site. Augulis said that Vilnius’ shabby proletarian outskirt of Naujoji Vilnia and Vilnius region’s rural area are heavily populated by Soviet-era emigres from that region of Belarus. They speak Russian and Belarusian only, although they claim to be Poles and they are the hardcore electorate of the Polish Electoral Action and, therefore, they should not have cultural barriers for taking a job in Lukashenko’s Belarus. “Even elections are similar in Belarus and the Vilnius region: the same ideas and the same political technologies,” Augulis said.
“I will seek an invitation to Belarus to participate in construction of the nuclear plant in Visaginas, where the site is already polluted anyway,” said Zuokas, who is always full of original ideas though usually only half of them are implemented.
On April 28, Nikolay Tsukanov, governor of the Kaliningrad region, arrived in Vilnius to meet Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, President Dalia Grybauskaite and other Lithuanian officials. Tsukanov said that Kaliningrad’s nuke will be “the safest in the world” and invited Lithuania to take part in its construction or to be its shareholder. There was no positive answer from Lithuania on these proposals. “There is no answer to the Lithuanian note [to Russia regarding the safety of Kaliningrad’s nuke]. No figures and no facts,” Azubalis said.