During a flying visit to Lithuania, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, said the Ignalina plant should not be an obstacle for the start of talks on the country joining the European Union and suggested that Lithuania and Latvia enter negotiations before the end of the year. EU pressure for closure of the plant has been building, with officials hinting that this could hasten Lithuania’s entry. Lithuanian officials argue safety and not politics should be the criterion for closure.

Finance Minister Algirdas Semeta told the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development annual meeting in London that the issue “should be decided not by politicians but by technical experts”. He pointed out that there has been a considerable safety improvement as a result of a number of projects implemented in co-operation with Western experts and that Ignalina is now among the safest power stations with RBMK reactors.

Semeta said closing Ignalina would significantly increase the cost of energy, provoking a sharp rise of prices, and would not be approved by the Lithuanian people. It would only be possible “with the financial support of other countries, in particular the European Union”, he added.