Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius says Lithuania may have to scale down enthusiasm for entry into the European Union if pressure to close the Ignalina nuclear power plant continues. The EU has made it clear that membership would be easier if Lithuania sets a firm timetable for closing the plant. Lithuania has set no firm date for closing the two RBMK reactors, but it has undertaken not to operate beyond their present service life which would mean closure in 2005 and 2010.

Opinion is divided in Lithuania on the plant’s future. While some officials say that with minimal modifications the reactors could operate for an additional 15 years, others support closing it. Some 28 parliamentary deputies from various parties recently signed an appeal to set up a commission to study alternative sources of energy.

The head of the Nuclear Safety Inspectorate, Saulius Kutas, points out that almost 80 million litas (about $20 million) has been spent this year on modernising the power station. Kutas believes that as long as the plant is safe, closure would not benefit Lithuania. A safety assessment has been carried out and, says Kuta, “the conclusions are: at present no shortcomings or inadequacies have been found at the plant that would necessitate an immediate or imminent shutdown.” The closure of the Ignalina would push up the price of electricity, argues deputy parliament speaker, Andrius Kubilius. At present, Lithuania is proposing that talks be held with the European Union on compensation for the losses if Ignalina were to be closed early.

The state-owned Lietuvos Energija (Lithuanian Energy) has announced that, although from a technical point of view, the Ignalina plant could operate until 2030, its continued use will be decided by the administration and parliament.

Last month, the Lithuanian authorities proposed to the European Commission that a team of international experts be set up to determine, among other things, how long Ignalina should continue. The plant’s two RBMK units are subject to fuel channel degradation, and Lithuania has already agreed not to replace the channels in either reactor in return for EBRD funding to improve safety at the plant. Unit 1 is thought to have only three years of operation left before rechannelling is needed.