Opposition strengthens against nuclear plant project

  • 2012-07-25
  • From wire reports

VILNIUS - The project to replace the now-shuttered Ignalina nuclear plant with a new nuclear power plant - the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant - was never going to be easy. Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius now says that the referendum on the construction of a nuclear power plant in Lithuania will also show which political parties and experts can be trusted, and who changes his or her views depending on which way the wind is blowing, reports ELTA.
The prime minister stresses that the referendum is not going to be held on just one specific project - the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) - but will be one in general on the future of nuclear energy in Lithuania.

Many parties candidly express support for nuclear energy in their programs, including parties like Lithuania’s Social Democratic Party, which campaigned for the referendum. This support can be deceptive, though. Kubilius says that, for example, MP Birute Vesaite was a very strong supporter of nuclear energy in 2008, and now she holds the exact opposite position.

“This is a consultative referendum. It is not associated with the project currently under review by the government. It questions the continuity of nuclear energy in general,” says the PM.
“Although we as a party have already said very clearly that we see the referendum as empty politicking, with its adoption in Parliament by the votes of the opposition, I would call it an opportunity to focus on the essential issues of energy independence during the election campaign. Such a prospect for us seems attractive. There is no need to flee from the truth, it is obvious that various Russian energy companies are not interested in the development of the Visaginas NPP project, and we have to speak about it up front,” says Kubilius.

Grassroots movement
The referendum initiative came from the Lithuanian Peasant and Green party and many green Non-Governmental Organizations.
Together with parliamentary elections, therefore, the consultative (advisory) referendum on a new Visaginas nuclear power plant will be held this year on Oct. 14. This was decided on July 16 by the Seimas in an extraordinary session.
Sixty-two MPs voted in favor of the resolution ‘On the Organization of a Referendum on a New Nuclear Power Plant Construction in the Republic of Lithuania,’ 39 were against and 18 MPs abstained. The stipulated text for the voters will be: “I am in favor of constructing a new nuclear power plant in the Republic of Lithuania.”

Parliament adopted the decision based on the fact that due to the construction of the nuclear power plant and the use of produced electricity, the state may have to make a substantial financial commitment. It is necessary to assess the safety of atomic energy. Parliament also emphasized the right of citizens to directly address the most important state issues which result in long-term liabilities for the taxpayers.

Watching the spending
Elder of the Seimas’ Group of the Christian Party Vidmantas Ziemelis has applied to Prosecutor General Darius Valys, asking for an evaluation of whether the contracts by the special nuclear power plant (NPP) project company Visagino Atomine Elektrine were made in line with the laws, and if the company has been using state funds transparently. The politician was motivated by recently published information in Lithuania’s media that the company signed various contracts on services and consultations without an invitation to tender.

According to MP Ziemelis, a business consulting agreement for 8 million litas (2.3 million euros) was made with British company NM Rothschild & Sons Limited; a 1.4 million litas consulting agreement on public relations with BVRG, and a 10 million litas contract on soil investigation with the company Artva and its partner Paul C. Rizzo Associates. According to the MP, Visagino Atomine Elektrine has made agreements worth around 20 million litas in total.

“The money spent according to those contracts comes from the public budget. Any cases of budget squandering and violation of laws have to be investigated. The company Visagino Atomine Elektrine could have possibly violated the public interest, which is equal to both state and society interest,” the politician said.

Pre-election posturing
Kubilius calls the consultative referendum a pre-electoral initiative and mere politicking. “It is mere politicking by MPs and political parties who, to my mind, are a bit lost ahead of the upcoming general elections. They are not sure about their political success and are being unwise. But the ordinary people of Lithuania, as it has been already proven, are much wiser and smarter than politicians who engage in politicking, feeling that they are losing their political perspective,” Kubilius said to journalists.

Rather than serving the continuity of the project, it might only bring more confusion in the nuclear plant talks with regional partners, warned the prime minister.
In his view, the biggest initiative-pushers are members from the small parties and the non-affiliated MPs. “Unfortunately, today the current mandate Seimas has 18 such politicians, much more than compared to the previous parliaments. Perhaps this is a way for them to be seen ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections,” the PM said.
Kubilius also pointed out that the residents are rather skeptical about such initiatives, judging from the results of the campaign to collect signatures against the construction of the NPP.

On June 28 Lithuania’s parliament gave the green light to the consultative referendum on the construction of the Visaginas NPP.