The Lithuanian parliament has voted to set a conditional closure deadline of 2005 for unit 1 of the Ignalina nuclear power plant, provided Western countries help with the decommissioning costs.
A decision on when to close unit 2 was postponed until 2004.
The government decision, now part of the latest version of Lithuania’s energy policy, was in response to European Union pressure. EU leaders insisted on a closure timetable to speed up the republic’s entry into the EU. Western and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development officials were in Lithuania for preliminary financial discussions immediately after the parliamentary vote.
Lithuanian officials say closure would depend on a financial accord. The EU is planning an international donors’ conference in Vilnius later this year. Energy Minister Eugenijus Maideikis puts the cost of decommissioning unit 1 at about 10 billion litas ($2.5 billion). Closing the reactor would also necessitate modernising the power supply sector, which could cost a further 2.8 billion litas.
Recent opinion polls have shown only 40% of the population supporting closure.
Lithuania’s nuclear energy law requires the programme be submitted to the State Atomic Energy Inspectorate (VATESI) at least five years before closure. To meet the 2005 deadline for decommissioning, the programme should be drawn up by the end of this year, which is unlikely.
“It is possible to avoid violating the law and honour the promise given to the European Union to close the block (in 2005)”, explained plant chief engineer Gennady Negrivoda. “We can halt the reactor by 2005 and take it out of operation when the five-year period expires. So the block would be closed temporarily rather than decommissioned. It would make no difference as in both cases, the plant would produce no electricity.” There is also concern that closing Ignalina will force Belarus to build a nuclear plant, according to Viktor Shevaldin, Ignalina's plant director.
Ignalina’s experts have estimated that the average electricity price would rise to 26 Lithuanian centas (6.5 US cents) from the current 15.46 centas after the plant’s closure.
Lithuania’s governing Homeland Union has suggested that a new modern nuclear reactor should be built at Ignalina when the existing reactors are decommissioned.