• 2001-05-03
The first sunny days of spring and early summer finally approached the Baltics last week. The weather was just as it was in the last days of April 15 years ago when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's reactor collapsed throwing dangerous radioactive dust across nearby Soviet republics and northern Europe.

The weather was so warm that people were sunbathing on the beach in Jurmala and enjoying themselves. No one had any idea about the deadly cloud passing over them. Soviet TV showed the perfect weather in Ukraine, with pictures of children playing in the fountains on the streets of Kiev.

A few days later the news started to spread through the grapevine. People were told to tune into the radio "voices" from the West. Through the unbearable interference - an integral part of any Western radio broadcast in the Soviet era - it was heard on Radio Free Europe (or was it the BBC?) that a nuclear reactor in the neighborhood had blown up.

Then the conscription began, when people even from the reserves were drafted into the army. Nobody knew where theywere going to be sent. They were sent to hell without warning.

It was only when Soviet TV finally started to report on the accident that it became clear what had happened. But even then, no proper protective measures were taken. Nobody seemed to be aware of the real danger. The health problems for the men who had to clean up the radioactive mess became visible only much later.

A few weeks after the accident, when everyone was already aware it had happened, in a high school's physics lesson in a Riga suburb the topic was radiation. The class was exploring the Geiger meter, which was ticking away calmly. But then one boy who had recently returned from a trip to Kiev raised his sneaker to the meter. The thing started to tick like crazy. The faces present turned to terror, and the teacher told the boy: "Go home and bury your sneakers as fast as you can."

Last week, the Chernobyl tragedy was remembered once again. This anniversary coincided strangely with Lithuania's announcement to postpone the closure of the second reactor at the country's only nuclear power station for between three and six years beyond the date suggested by the EU which is 2009. It is clear that it is difficult for a small country like Lithuania, which has no other major source of energy, to simply shut down its main source. With no alternatives explored or developed, this would certainly mean dependence on its neighbors, namely Russia.

With vague promises of finance for the shutdown and tough conditions for membership of the European elite, the EU seems to be using more sticks than carrots to get the stubborn Lithuanians to obey. And the EU should provide more support and cooperation, not only by granting money for the decommissioning of Ignalina, but also by advising on how to solve Lithuania's energy gap.

And for the sake of safety Lithuania should start to consider energy alternatives, quickly.