Lithuania prepares Ignalina offensive

The Baltic Times
Mike Collier in cooperation with BNS
March 12, 2008

VILNIUS – Lithuanian leaders are preparing to roll the dice in their bid to keep the Ignalina nuclear power plant open beyond its scheduled Dec. 31, 2009 shut-off date. President Valdas Adamkus, Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas and other members of the government plan to take advantage of the latest European Council meeting on March 14 to brief their counterparts in other EU member states on Lithuania’s post-shutdown doomsday scenario.

“Hopefully the European Commission will offer Lithuania an acceptable solution to the energy crisis,” Adamkus said via a press release. Talking of a ‘crisis’ rather than a ‘deficit’ is indicative of the Lithuanian attempt to drive home the potential seriousness of a switch-off.

Adamkus met with Kirkilas and Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas on March 12 to discuss a co-ordinated strategy a unified stance on the Ignalina question.

“The common attitude of the European Union over relations with nations – energy suppliers is of primary importance to Lithuania”, the release continued.

Lithuania’s representatives in the European Council and leaders of EU nations will also discuss climate change and implementation of the new Lisbon Strategy 2008-2010 plus energy, financial market stability and external relations issues.

The Lithuanian government has set up a commission, which is to consult with the European Commission (EC) and EU nations over Lithuania’s future energy security.

Lithuania wants to extend the lifespan of the Ignalina power plant because in order to avoid almost complete reliance on Russian gas imports until a replacement nuclear plant can be built. Slow progress on the project has led to current estimates that a new nuclear plant may not come online until 2020 – leaving a 10-year gap to be filled somehow.

Lithuania assumed the obligation of closing Ignalina during its accession in the EU, which considers Ignalina’s Soviet-built RBMK-type reactors as unsafe. Lithuania closed the first of Ignalina’s twin reactors at the end of 2004.

Former Prime Minister Alexandras Abisala has been appointed as Lithuania’s long-term persuader to the EU and is heading a special government commission created to make it clear that a shutdown could have disastrous economic and environmental consequences for Lithuania.
“Extension of the nuclear power plant’s operations for several years could be one of possibilities to neutralize energy threats,” Abisala said when he accepted the role last month. A petition is also being prepared calling on European decision-makers including Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs to give Ignalina a stay of execution.

Last October, President Adamkus seemd confident that he could win concessions from the EU, saying: “I think that any reasonable establishment or person will understand we may consider a period of extension so as to have us shift from one system to the other.”

However, Piebalgs’ categorical refusal to countenance an extension for Ignalina has dampened hopes and made it necessary to make the case all over again.

Even Abisala rates his chances of winning an extension as no better than five percent.