Industrialists: Ignalina must stay

  • 1999-12-09
  • By Peter J. Mladineo
VILNIUS - A plea for support for the Ignalina nuclear reactor was
made last week by the Confederation of Lithuanian Industrialists,
although it may be too little too late.

In an open letter to the president, and the Seimas (Lithuania's
parliament), Bronislovas Lubys, president of the powerful
non-governmental organization, harshly criticized the decision made
by the government to close the plant in 2004-2005.

"It is obvious that the decision to close Ignalina was a poor
political decision based on clearly unmentioned pressure from EU
officials and the absolute obedience of some Lithuanian politicians
to them," Lubys wrote.

The confederation believes that the first block should operate until
2013, the second block until 2017. Lubys added that the further
development of Ignalina's nuclear energy production, will enable
Lithuania to become "a significant electricity exporter."

Closing the plant prematurely, Lubys contends, will force Lithuania
to go from an energy exporter to an energy importer and will have
negative impacts on the country's economic condition. Lubys predicts
that electricity prices will double.

The confederation isn't convinced that the EU will pay for closing
Ignalina. Lubys estimates the cost at 20 billion ($5 billion) to 40
billion litas.

No document obligates EU to support to Lithuania in this crisis, said
Audras Smilgevicius, director of the confederation's information
center. "As a consequence [early closure] would be the jumping [up]
of all prices, not only for tariffs of energy but for consumer prices
and the prices of industrial goods. All Lithuanian people must pay
for this closure," he said.

The confederation seems the most miffed by the political overtones of
the country's energy strategy.

"It is based on technological problems, but politicians use this as a
political instrument," said Smilgevicius. "The consequences of
closing the Ignalina power station will be very difficult for the
Lithuanian economy. This power station is the one gift which was left
by Soviet government for Lithuania, and this gift we must use very

But so far, Lubys' letter seems to falling on closed ears.

"This letter is rather late in the day," said Jonas Kazlauskas, head
of Ministry of Economy's department of energy development. "The
crucial decision in this issue was made when the Lithuanian
Parliament voted on accepting of the national energy strategy."

Kazlauskas added that the national energy strategy for closure in
2004-2005 is an adequate compromise between Lithuania and the EU.

"Bearing in mind that at a certain time the EU asked for the
immediate shutdown of the Ignalina Atomic Power Station, the current
decision is to be seen as a compromise which is acceptable both for
EU and Lithuania. This issue is solely within the competence of
Seimas, and I think that the reconsideration of the national energy
strategy is highly improbable."

Vilemas Jurgis, a nuclear engineer and director of the Energy
Institute of Lithuania in Kaunas, questions the validity of the
confederation's proposal.

"This is just a dream. I think it's prepared by people who don't
understand energy in the Baltic region," he said. "When comparing
different possible options in new energy production in this region,
nuclear is one of the most expensive options."

Jurgis said nuclear power cannot be produced in small units, as the
confederation suggested.

"Nuclear energy may be produced only in large units of 1,000
megawatts or more," he said.

Also, Jurgis does not agree that Lithuania will have a future as a
large-scale energy exporter because the demand for energy is

"It's a very tough business, to market it and to sell electricity to
the West. We rely on the hope that in the future the common
electricity market around the Baltic Sea will become a reality. Then
it opens the possibilities for export. But still it's only a

But the largest obstacle for Ignalina, Jurgis contends, is a no-nukes
attitude prevalent throughout Europe.

"The argument that it is unsafe is based on a total anti-nuclear
opinion of the western European electorate. More than half of the
countries in western Europe announced a moratorium for nuclear
energy. And in such a psychological environment to hope for any
support or understanding from banking institutions to construct new
nuclear facilities is unrealistic."

Meanwhile, Ignalina could have a leadership crisis of its own. The
plant's general director, Viktor Sevaldin, has threatened to resign
his post if several of the plant's financial problems, including 340
million litas in unpaid bills from Lietuvos Energijos, are not
addressed by the government. Sevaldin wants to see an increase in the
price of energy from 5.9 centas to 7.8 centas per kilowatt-hour.