Up the creek against a nuclear monster

  • 2012-08-09
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

POWER TRIP: The battle to save the planet against nuclear energy starts in the backwaters of Lithuania for Arturas Chomentauskas.

KLAIPEDA - Leading a 550-kilometer trip on water, with little experience in a canoe and little money in his pockets, would be enough to scare off most from taking on the venture, but the desire to speak out against the Visaginas nuclear power plant (VNPP) for Arturas Chomentauskas, leader and organizer of the project Green Future 2012, was too strong a motivation to allow him to give up his dream. He is prepared to tell everyone about, and protest against, the VNPP, splashing and paddling his way across Lithuania.

The polls say nearly 70 percent of voters frown at the prospect of the Visaginas nuclear plant, the one expected to replace the closed Ignalina power plant.
Lithuania lost its major source of electricity when Ignalina was shut down, and is now a net electricity importer.
But Chomentauskas has stepped a lot further into the issue, and is resolute to kayak the 550 kilometers along the intricate Lithuanian waterways to push his point.

He set out for the voyage last weekend from a lake on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, in the district of Ignalina, with its now defunct nuclear facility, and after paddling from one rivulet to another, leading to the Neris and Neman rivers, he is expected to paddle into the Curonian Lagoon a week-and-a-half later, somewhere in the middle of the month.
The TV reality-show-like voyage may be deemed by some as a lonely wolf’s pursuit of fame, and its ensuing brownie points, but the kayaker shrugs it all off. “No, it isn’t a stunt. It is a civic action, a deliberate, well and long cherished one, aimed to boost Lithuanians’ support for green energy and its benefits for the country,” Chomentauskas said to The Baltic Times.

He confided that he has been pondering the idea for a dozen years, at least. “It started right after the idea of a new nuclear power plant began to unfold,” he says.

The time has come
Now the time has come to have the dream come true, though the road to fulfillment is bumpy. “The preparation was quite rocky. I’d compare it with Don Quixote’s struggle against the windmills. Most business people I talked to, especially in the beginning, were looking at me as at some extraterrestrial. There was little understanding and confidence, and a lot of indifference,” says Chomentauskas, a graduate of Vilnius Educology University, a specialist in English and business management. After graduation, he shuffled between stints, mostly on a managerial level, before getting really obsessed with the kayaking-against-Visaginas-nuke idea.

Only during the last days of the preparation, after highlights in the national media, did some serious business people respond to the pleas for help. Thus, the company Armija and Civiliai, a military apparel and equipment chain, has contributed with a state-of-the-art military tent, ax, light and some other equipment for the trip.
He says he is very grateful for a photovoltaic cell retailer that provided him with mobile energy chargers to be installed on the route. The equipment, sure, is “green” - solar energy powered.
“It is a huge relief to know I won’t have to run to the nearest homestead to have my cell phone batteries recharged,” says the daredevil.

The hardest thing, nevertheless, appeared to be getting major telecommunication companies interested into the project. “I had sent a slew of e-mails to all of them, but with no success. I was about to give up trying, but I was brave enough to step into the Samsung office in Vilnius. Luck has been on my side - I received their smartphone, the one that I will use to air the journey live,” the voyager says.

For the trek, he has also borrowed a fishing rod that he is going to use for catching breakfast. “If the fishing doesn’t go so well, to have my stomach full with fish soup, I am ready to roam into the nearest hut and ask the locals to sell me some fresh potatoes or eggs. Hopefully, people will have heard of my feat,” Chomentauskas says.
However, all this assistance was not enough, so he has taken a bank loan of 2,000 litas (580 euros) for other necessary tools. This is how much the bank would lend him, considering that he is currently unemployed.
He intends to video document his trip as much possible – and use Facebook and Twitter for the purpose.
The driving force was own principles
Paddling may be physically exhausting, but the journey definitely needs a necessary mindset as well. “I’ve tried to psyche myself up for it. I’ll see soon how well I did it,” Chomentauskas says.
Some of the trip’s stretches, like the tedious Neman leg of the river, from Kaunas to the Curonian Lagoon, some shallow segments of the Neris River and the hardly predictable and dangerous Curonian Lagoon, are among the most complicated, says the green activist.

He is set to paddle roughly 40 kilometers every day, though going downstream should help his efforts.
The adventurer says he is ready for the challenge and acknowledges that he would have taken off on it if less well prepared - even if he had had only an ordinary raft and a kitchen knife.

“I am really relying on the help of locals on the route. So many goodhearted, honest and sincere people dwell along the picturesque banks of the Lithuanian rivulets, rivers and lakes. I want to mingle with the folks, sharing their views on green energy. I hope we’ll find a common ground,” Chomentauskas says.
He went on: “My own principles were the driving force. Also, the government’s defiance of public opinion has triggered me to make up my mind on this. Especially considering that the consequences of the to-be nuclear power plant that our future generations will feel.”

Too few decide for all
The young green activist says he is “perplexed” by the government’s lackadaisical efforts in promoting alternative energy sources. Not only this, but actually crippling its development while promoting nuclear energy. “We’ve been hearing only the long, monotonous mantra being sung by the government, that the only way to secure energy security and independence is [through] the VNPP. This is sheer crap,” he says.

The modern world, Chomentauskas stresses, has long ago shifted towards renewables, or is getting ridding of their nuclear capacities, especially after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
“Lithuania possesses as much solar and wind energy as Germany, a country that has firmly tied its future with the alternative energy sources. In Lithuania, however, a bunch of bureaucrats have imposed their decision on all of us. Too few to decide for all of us,” the green energy activist says.

He notes that even China has recently decided to stick with thorium-fueled nuclear reactors, instead the traditional ones. “Atomic energy savants tout thorium reactors as much safer and cheaper. Lithuanian nuclear project wonks do not heed that,” says Chomentauskas.

He is convinced that the Visaginas NPP will be neither beneficial for the state, or for its people, nor will it help for Lithuania to polish up its image of a country moving towards a modern, high-tech economy.
“No high-tech country focuses exceptionally on developing nuclear capabilities. The focus is on development and expansion of renewables. Lithuania’s decision to put  immense resources into Visaginas, when the economy is still limping, when the economic return on the project is doubtful and when we literally are hooking future generations onto the project’s obligations, is not the smartest idea, to say it mildly,” the trekker emphasized.
Entire region endangered

With the plant built, he says, not only Lithuania, but the entire Baltic region will be endangered. “It would make sense to spread out the availability of energy resources throughout the country, instead of concentrating them in a single spot. Expansion of green energy sources would provide quite an opposite map - an even spread of the energy network throughout the country. This would allow also for distributing investments into the energy sector evenly to all municipalities, instead of singling out just one,” Chomentauskas notes.

He hopes that his venture will help to ramp up the anti-nuclear stance among the public, which, until now, he says, has been quite passive in that regard. “I hope 9 out of 10 ballot casters in the advisory referendum will slam the nuclear idea. If this happens, I’ll feel I’ve contributed to that as well. That would be the result that the new Parliament would not be able to defy, even considering that the referendum is only consultative,” he says.
Some say the project leader of Green Future 2012 must be a dark horse in some anti-nuclear energy-oriented party’s electoral program, but that is not the case. “I am not a member of any party or movement. The voyage is my personal decision and I am speaking my own views” the trekker says.

Besides, Chomentauskas says he seeks to prove for others that canoeing in Lithuania can be as exciting as it is elsewhere. “If I manage to do both - bring more awareness to green energy and reveal the beauty and interconnection of our waterways, I will consider I’ve succeeded,” Chomentauskas said.