Estonian ambassador ensures support for Ignalina extension

The Baltic Times
March 13, 2008

Estonia”s ambassador in Vilnius has confirmed the Baltic state”s support of Lithuania”s intention to negotiate the extension of operation of the old power plant in Ignalina despite a comment by an Estonian energy official to the contrary.

Einari Kisel, head of the energy department at Estonia”s Economy Ministry, was quoted as saying that Estonia was unlikely to support efforts to extend the Ignalina nuclear facility since, in his words, closing Ignalina as planned would force Vilnius to speed up the process of building a new one.

Kisel also claimed that Lithuania would have sufficient energy production capacity after the closing of Ignalina, local and international media reported on March 6.

The comment reverberated like a minor shock wave in Lithuania, with many considering it a stab in the back by a neighboring Baltic state.

Andres Tropp, Estonia”s ambassador to Lithuania, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to explain Estonia”s official position on this matter.

Tropp assured that the opinion expressed by Kisel does not reflect the country”s official position. The ambassador restated Estonia”s firm support of the construction of a new nuclear plant in Lithuania, the ministry announced.

Violeta Gaizauskaite, director of the ministry”s public relations department, said Tropp also noted that Estonia understands the difficulties Lithuania will face after the closing of Ignalina in 2009.

In addition, the ministry also summoned Lithuania”s ambassador in Tallinn, Juozas Bernatonis, to discuss the matter with Estonian counterparts both in Tallinn and Brussels.

Still, even though Estonia”s ambassador expressed strong support to the idea of extending Ignalina”s operational life, there might be something more behind the opposition than merely a quote by one official, according to reports in Lithuanian media.

Kalev Vapper, an Estonian Economy Ministry spokesman, was quoted by news agencies on March 7 as saying that Estonia opposes attempts to delay the closure of Sovietbuilt nuclear plant. He stressed, however, that Estonia is not backing out of the new power plant project.

“Estonia and its energy company Eesti Energia have never said that they won”t participate in the construction of the new nuclear power plant in Lithuania, or that they would withdraw from the project,” Vapper said.

Estonia”s Economy Minister has openly mulled the possibility of building its own nuclear power plant. Stateowned power company Eesti Energia (Estonian Energy) is reportedly looking into a small nuclear plant in the town of Sillamae.

Sandor Liive, chief executive of the stateowned power company, said that this is a matter of “public discussion” and “serious analysis.”

Commenting this idea, Kisel said that a nuclear power plant would ensure Estonia”s longterm supply, “but getting there is of course a very long process that is going to take a minimum 15 years.”

Upon accession to the European Union, Lithuania undertook an obligation to close down the old Sovietbuilt Ignalina power plant. The first nuclear block of Ignalina was decommissioned at the end of 2004, while the second reactor is scheduled for closure at the end of 2009.

However, since construction of a new power plant may take up to 10 years, Lithuanians fear a total dependency on Russian electricity. A new report by the Lithuanian Energy Institute shows that from the point of view of energy security, Lithuania would be placed in a dangerous situation after Ignalina”s closure.

Official negotiations between the government”s specially appointed negotiator, Aleksandras Abisala, and the European Commission, are set to commence at the time of a European Summit meeting on March 13-14.

In the meantime, a few national initiative groups are collecting signatures for a public referendum and a deliberation of law on extending Ignalina power plant”s second reactor.

Estonia, Latvia and Poland have agreed to participate in Lithuania”s new atomic power plant project, but for various reasons the project has been significantly delayed. This, in turn, has caused frustration among participant countries, who are equally concerned about their energy security and dependence on Russia.