Adamkus lashes out on Ignalina

  • 2002-03-07
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus dropped a political bomb during a press conference Feb. 26 when he said that Lithuania should not obey the European Commission's demand to close the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant by 2009.

Adamkus later tried to defuse the statement over the following two days, saying he simply wanted to emphasize Lithuania's need for EU financial assistance in closing the plant and possibly building a more modern one.

"Nobody has given me any proof that Ignalina is unsafe," Adamkus said in the now famous speech.

He urged Lithuania to follow the example of Finland, which has two nuclear plants.

Adamkus' spokeswoman Violeta Gaizauskaite said the president had only wanted Lithuania to hold onto its nuclear power.

Social Democrat MP Ceslovas Jursenas said the Feb. 26 statement amounts to blatant campaigning. Lithuania will hold a presidential election at the end of this year.

"Where was Adamkus two years ago, when the fate of Ignalina was being debated?" Jursenas asked. "Why has he suddenly brought up this issue only now?"

Adamkus has still not announced if he'll run for a second term.

Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas was not eager to comment on Adamkus' statement.

"Our government will not make decision on Ignalina alone," he said. "It should be the joint position of the government, Parliament and president."

Brazauskas did not comment on his own presidential aspirations.

"Maybe Adamkus' statement is the start of his presidential campaign. Maybe he was just too emotional," said Gediminas Kirkilas. "I'm sure that in April the Parliament will vote in favor of the shutdown of Ignalina by 2009. At least, the ruling coalition of the Social Democrats and Social Liberals will vote for it.

"Discussions about building a new, modern nuclear reactor are continuing," he said. "I don't see anything wrong in this."

Discussions in the Lithuanian press show that statements by the ever-popular Adamkus are only partially supported by readers. Many readers are supporting his tough stance toward Brussels.Others accuse him of cheap populism.

The shutdown of the Ignalina plant might cost up to 20 billion euros ($17.4 billion). The EU is currently promising 70 million euros.

Two weeks before his statements, 118 leading Lithuanian nuclear scientists wrote an open letter to Adamkus urging him to oppose the closure of Ignalina by 2009. They argued that safety upgrades to the plant in the 1990s made it safe and added that it was incorrect to call it a "Chernobyl-type" plant.

According to the social research firm Vilmorus, 15.2 percent of Lithuanians consider Ignalina's shutdown to be the main issue in the country's membership negotiations with the EU. But the issue has not changed many opinions on joining the EU.

About 55 percent of those polled in February would vote for Lithuania's EU membership if a referendum were held "today." Roughly 21 percent said they would vote against, according to the market research company Vilmorus. Lithuania plans to join the EU by 2004.

Days before Adamkus' statement former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas, leader of the newly created Liberal Democrats, said Lithuania should not obey Brussels' ultimatum on Ignalina's shutdown.

Others say statements like these are too little too late.

"Lithuania has very little room to maneuver on Ignalina," Jursenas said.

On Feb. 27 Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to Vilnius that the EU's position is clear: Ignalina should be shutdown by 2009.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar also made clear during a press conference in Vilnius on March 5 that there was little room for Lithuania to maneuver.

"I would propose to Lithuania that it keep to the 2009 closure dates, and then the EU will help as much as it can," he said.

Spain currently holds the rotating EU presidency - which goes to Denmark in July.