EC blackmails Vilnius over Ignalina

  • 2001-03-15
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Brussels beer and chips failed to cheer up Algirdas Brazauskas, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party. He returned from the capital of the European Union with an expression on his face comparable only to the British weather. Eurocrats had demanded firm decisions from Vilnius on closing down the Ignalina nuclear power plant.

Brazauskas visited Brussels on March 6, where he sat down to dinner with EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen so they could discuss enlargement issues.

"The EU, including the European Commission and member states, are determined that there is no hope for Lithuanian accession with the first wave of enlargement unless Lithuania announces a date for the closure of the second reactor. This announcement should be made next year," Brazauskas said at a press conference in the Parliament on March 7.

The same theme was the main topic during a meeting between Brazauskas, Lithuania's president between 1992 and 1999, and current President Valdas Adamkus in the Presidential Palace on March 8.

During his briefing right after the meeting, Brazauskas said that Verheugen had put the Ignalina issue in a very direct manner and with no reservations.

"I was surprised at the straightforward way in which this question arose. In previous times the EC people have used more diplomatic language," Brazauskas said.

Brazauskas has asked the European Commission to present more information on the planned financial support by the EU for the closure of Ignalina. Last summer, the EU and the United States promised 200 million euros ($183 million) to begin the process. Brazauskas called this sum "a drop in the ocean." He said that the closure of Ignalina would cost much more.

"It's not serious," Brazauskas said about the 200 million euros promised by the West. "It's obvious that Lithuania has no money for the closure of Ignalina."

He expressed his anger that the European Commission is demanding promises from Vilnius, but that Brussels itself avoids giving any guarantees on financial support. Some guilt should be felt, he said, by the Lithuanian government for the situation, because Lithuanian negotiators are not competent enough to get tough with the Eurocrats.

Brazauskas expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of professionalism of the current Liberal/Social Liberal government on the Ignalina issue. He said that nobody in Lithuania has been able to present Brussels with precise figures about the expenses of the closure.

It is not only the closure that will cost. The burial of radioactive materials will also be expensive. Brazauskas complained that the Lithuanian government had not asked Lithuanian nuclear scientists to consult with Lithuania's EU negotiating delegation.

Darius Kuolys, an adviser to Adamkus, said that his boss absolutely agreed with the criticism Brazauskas had for the government over the Ignalina issue. "The positions of both presidents are identical," Kuolys said.

Brazauskas retains the title of president in Lithuania, despite having left the office.

Both Brazauskas and Adamkus urged the Liberal government of Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas for more transparency. Both presidents said that Lithuanian society should be better informed about negotiations between Vilnius and the European Commission over Ignalina.

In a donor conference in Vilnius last June, the participant states named the sums they planned to allot to the power station's closure. Some 200 million euros were raised at the conference. The sum will be transferred to an international fund on the decommissioning of Ignalina, which will be administered by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

In a national strategy that Lithuania adopted for the energy sector in 1999, Ignalina's first reactor block is scheduled for closure by 2005, while the fate of the second reactor block is to be determined in 2004, when a new national energy strategy is drafted.

This law says that Ignalina will be closed as long as the international community raises enough cash for the closure.

The Ignalina nuclear power plant was built in the late 1970s with the consent of officials in the former Soviet Union without any consultation with the Lithuanian population. It was supposed to supply electricity for the Baltic states, Belarus and some western Russian regions of the Soviet empire.

Ignalina is set to be decommissi-oned earlier than the term originally allowed for the two Soviet-made reactors. Both Ignalina's RBMK reactors, the same type used at Chernobyl, are considered unsafe by the European Commission.

According to preliminary calculations, the closure of the first reactor will cost approximately 250 million euros. Lithuania is planning to conclude EU membership talks in 2002 and be ready to assume EU membership obligations from 2004. All major political parties support these goals.