Europe, yes; nuclear, no3 June 2003
By giving up its Ignalina nuclear plant, Lithuania has secured a good deal for entry to the European Union. By Hughes Belin
Despite general satisfaction with nuclear power within the country, Lithuania will shut down Ignalina unit 1 no later than 31 December 2004 and unit 2 by 31 December 2009.
The shutdown dates were agreed by Lithuania, following a request from
the European Union (EU) as part of accession negotiations. Lithuania nonetheless offers Western investors the possibility of using its nuclear installations and expertise, and is ready to embark on new nuclear generation, so long as financing comes from outside the country's public budget.
The EU and Lithuania both told NEI that Vilnius had struck "a good deal" by negotiating some E500 million in aid in compensation for the shutdown of the two 1500MWe units, which had been set to operate until 2014 and 2017 respectively. The reasons for the European insistence are well known: the Ignalina reactors are of the RBMK type, containment-free like those in Chernobyl.
The head of the European Commission (EC) delegation in Vilnius, Michael Graham, told NEI: "There is no doubt that the request for the shutdown of Ignalina had a negative impact on public opinion in Lithuania." This phenomenon can only be understood in the context of the country's independence. Ignalina, once the symbol of Russian domination vilified by independence activists, and later the Lithuanian people, became a symbol of the country's autonomy overnight, as Russian oil and gas supplies were abruptly cut off in the midst of winter. Lithuania only survived in terms of energy supply thanks to this nuclear plant inherited from Russia. Moreover, the country exports power to other Baltic states and supplies power to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. While relations with Russia have been restored to normal, they are still a sensitive subject. This was evident at the time of the sale of the national oil company to a US company, who then sold it to the Russians, causing an outcry throughout Lithuania.
On the whole, one Ignalina reactor is used to supply domestic energy needs and the second produces energy for export. The consequences of the shutdown of the first unit will therefore be negligible for the country, except in terms of security of supply. The country's electricity supply is not in danger for either the short- or medium-term but will from now on depend on imports of gas or electricity.
In contrast, the situation will not be the same once the second unit is halted in 2010. According to projections, electricity demand can be met until 2020 by existing non-nuclear power plants, if these are modernised and their capacity increased. The Elektriane plant needs a serious overhaul, in particular to come into conformity with EU environmental standards, which are much stricter than those in force in Lithuania at present. There
is limited potential for increasing cogeneration capacity (urban heating
networks), only by modernising boilers. As for the rest, Lithuania will have to connect to the Polish gas and electricity network, which will be partly financed by the EU. So there are not really any concerns as far as energy supply is concerned, bearing in mind, however, that most energy imports would come from Russia.
The most serious consequences of the shutdown of Ignalina as long as electricity and heating prices do not rise are social. Talks are still underway to establish a real redundancy programme. While layoffs will be phased in, total staff will be cut from 4000 today to 800 over the long-term. The city of Visaginas, with its 30,000 inhabitants, built to house Ignalina staff and their families, will certainly bear the lion's share of the impact of the shutdown. The Lithuanian government estimated its social cost at over E130 million.
Ignalina was a 'gift' from the Soviet Union, but turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing, because the country now has to manage its radioactive waste and dismantle it for which no funds were earmarked before the country's independence. The problem of financing the management of radioactive waste still remains unsolved, because European funds alone will not be enough.
According to the Lithuanian Energy Union, the initial stage of Ignalina decommissioning comprises production of the final decommissioning design, installation of radwaste and spent nuclear fuel management facilities, completion of preparatory work on constructing storage facilities and repositories, dismantling of installations, decontamination, conditioning radwaste as well as construction of a standby boiler house for the plant. The costs of spent nuclear fuel are also to be tackled at the final stage of decommissioning. Hence the Lithuanian government estimated the costs of technical decommissioning until 2020 at r888.3 million. Furthermore, the costs beyond 2020, at this stage, are estimated at E2.2 billion for disposal of spent nuclear fuel, depending on the method chosen.
The Lithuanian government estimated at over E200 million to support radwaste and spent fuel management, broken down in five projects. The first E70 million project deals with the interim storage (<50 years) for RMBK spent fuel assemblies from both units, since Ignalina has so far no disposal route for its spent nuclear fuel. The current interim storage site adjoining the power plant site has insufficient capacity to contain all the fuel that will accumulate in the reactor core and storage ponds in the future.
Another E80 million project will allow for setting up a modern waste management and storage system for existing and future waste from decommissioning. Currently, 21,000m3 of low- and intermediate-level solid radwaste is stored at Ignalina. High-level radwaste is also stored in the pools of units 1 and 2 and a further 80-90m3 of waste is generated annually. Overall, the waste stored on site has not been properly characterised. The project would allow the retrieval, transfer,
sorting, treatment, repackaging and storage of the short- and long-lived solid radwaste currently stored on site.
Another E69.4 million and seven-year project would allow for the transfer of spent nuclear fuel from unit 1 to the intermediate spent
fuel storage facility.
Other projects from the technical decommissioning chapter include: building an alternative and reliable heat and steam source for Ignalina and the neighbouring town of Visaginas after the closure (E50 million); the modernisation of the technical documentation archive, in order to provide all the organisations involved in
the decommissioning with properly registered, stored and controlled
documentation and to retain a
document archive for at least 100 years (E3 million); the preparation to formally register the sites for pre-decommissioning facilities and partial restoration of Ignalina's territory (2644ha of land at present) in support of its closure and decommissioning (E1.7 million); the transportation of partially burnt nuclear fuel assemblies from unit 1 to unit 2, for re-use in unit 2 (E9.6 million); general planning in order to provide necessary documentation for licensing and detailed
planning in accordance with Lithuanian law (E5.4 million); the shut down of unit 1 would last four years and end with the nuclear fuel unloading from the reactor (E78.7 million).
Overall, the EU plans to provide Lithuania with E500 million in assistance to 2007. Michael Graham said the hardest thing would be spending the money: "If you can't manage the funds, you don't get them." While technical projects do indeed exist, qualified personnel are needed to implement them. The problem is that most qualified people for this kind of job would work elsewhere once the EU borders are opened in May 2004.
Lithuania cooperates with foreign countries concerning the decommissioning of Ignalina. The country's radioactive waste management agency (RATA) has been given international assistance from the first days of its existence, such as Sweden's International Project Nuclear Safety, a r50 million project over 10 years, or Swedish nuclear fuel and waste management company SKB. The Lithuanian Energy Institute is involved in partnerships with Belgatom, Framatome ANP and RWE Nukem.
A new reactor?
Although a new nuclear build is not currently a realistic option, president Rolandas Paksas said just after he was elected that Lithuania wants to remain a nuclear state. Part of the scientific establishment sees Ignalina's closure as a loss of scientific and
technical potential. But the country cannot pay for a new plant on its own. Building a brand new nuclear plant is a "tremendous investment", according to secretary of state for energy Arturas Dainius, who mentioned a
figure equal to the country's annual budget (see NEI May 2003, p47). This is why Lithuania is prepared to offer its infrastructure, for a 25 to 50% participation in the project, for a new "Western" nuclear project.
The country's nuclear law was amended in the spring of 2002 to allow a foreign company to build and operate a nuclear plant in Lithuania. Many countries' scientists and politicians advocate the Lithuanian case for a new nuclear plant. An investor would have the site, the infrastructure (diesel generator, compressed air and nitrogen station, decontamination installation, facilities for liquid radioactive effluents, steam boiler, communication network, seismic surveillance station and radiological monitoring system, and spent fuel storage installations), personnel, and electricity transmission lines, "which considerably reduces the cost of the project," said Ignalina's director
He said that 60% of the population would favour the building of a new plant. The Lithuanian market is admittedly very small, and the electricity generated would primarily be exported through the interconnected Baltic grid (in the planning stages).
A new reactor would only be
competitive in a regional market (north-western Russia, Latvia, Belarus and Kaliningrad). However, no economic studies have been carried out on the feasibility of such a project, and would have to be paid for by a future investor.
Nevertheless, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are to study the option of building a new nuclear plant, according to the head of the Lithuanian Energy Institute Jurgis Vilemas. This study will be part of joint assessment by the three countries on the future of the energy sector in the region, following the closure of Ignalina. Conducted with the assistance of NATO and jointly funded by the three countries involved and probably by the USA, the study should be completed by early 2004. Lithuania has an obvious interest to build a new plant: taxes to the national budget; independence from Russia's oil, gas and power exports; and also stimulation of business
activity for Lithuanian industry and population, estimated at E200 million during the building phase.
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