Ignalina replacement discussion heats up

  • 2002-10-03
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis

Support for a new, modern nuclear power plant to replace the outgoing Soviet-built dinosaur at Ignalina is growing, with politicians and industry experts promoting such a move.

President Valdas Adamkus got the ball rolling last week when he endorsed plans to replace the Ignalina nuclear power plant, built by the Soviets according to the model used in Chernobyl, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster.

Ignalina's two RBMK-type reactors are considered unsafe in spite of the 200 million euros invested into them over the last decade, and Lithuania agreed at the European Union's behest to shut down the first one by 2005 and the second by 2009.

The EU, in its turn, has pledged to offer financial assistance for the decommissioning.

But at a conference on nuclear energy in Vilnius last week, Adamkus said a new reactor, to which the EU does not object, would be a sound business move that would keep the country's energy needs met.

Ignalina accounts for more than 75 percent of the electricity used by this nation of 3.8 million.

"A new reactor is necessary. Ignalina means energy independence for Lithuania," said Bronislovas Lubys, president of the Lithuanian Industrialists' Confederation. "Otherwise, Lithuania would be totally dependent on Russian oil and gas supplies."

The sentiment rings especially true in some Lithuanian ears after Russian oil giant Yukos acquired a majority stake and management rights in the country's strategic oil concern Mazeikiu Nafta, which includes a refinery, pipeline and import-export terminal.

Adamkus said a new plant would be built and partly owned by Western investors.

"Shutting down Ignalina's reactors does not preclude us from building in the future a modern nuclear power plant satisfying all technical and safety requirements and standards," he said.

The Parliament's Economics Committee backed him up, writing a sentence into Lithuania's energy strategy that calls for providing "political and legal support" to any foreign investors willing to invest in a new plant.

At the conference, American, Japanese and Canadian firms presented plans that envision new reactors that could be built in 36-48 months.

Energy experts from these countries, Lithuania and Russia were also on hand.

Construction of a new 1,000-MW nuclear reactor, which would replace the current Russian-produced 1,300-MW units at Ignalina, is estimated to cost $1 billion to $1.3 billion.

Jurgis Vilemas, head of the Lithuanian Energy Institute, said if Lithuania decided to build a new reactor, its peak capacity would be 1,000 MW.

"The possibility of building a new reactor will be decided by the free market. At the moment, it doesn't make economic sense to build a new reactor. However, in 2015 or so, oil and gas may become very expensive and science will hopefully make construction of a new reactor cheaper," Vilemas said.

Hideto Nakai from the Japanese corporation Toshiba said investments into the installation of a BWP-type reactor would amount to $1,200 per kilowatt. Construction works would take 36 months.

It would take even longer to prepare the plant's design and get a license, as advanced Japanese ABWP reactors are licensed only in Japan, the United States and Taiwan.

Investments into a Candu reactor, produced by the Canadian company AECL, would reach $1,000 per kilowatt and construction might last 48 months.

Berndt Doehnert, representative of the U.S. company Westinghouse, said investment into their AP1000 reactor would range from $1,000 to $1,300 per kilowatt and construction would last 36 months.

"The entire construction of a new reactor could cost anywhere from $600 million to $1.5 billion according to Western specialists," sad Kazimiera Prunskiene, leader of the union of the Farmers' Party and New Democracy Party. "However, they are not taking into account that Ignalina already has all the necessary infrastructure The real price could be much cheaper in Ignalina - some $400 million."

This, said Ignalina nuclear plant director Viktor Sevaldin, gives Lithuania a boost over neighbors Latvia and Poland, which lack the infrastructure for a modern plant.