Lithuania set for clash with Brussels over nuclear power plant
July 15, 2008

Lithuania has stepped up pressure on the European Commission by deciding to hold a referendum on whether to extend the lifespan of the Ignalina nuclear power plant, despite having agreed – as a condition of entry into the EU – to shut the station down at the end of 2009.

On Monday (14 July), 88 out of 141 Lithuanian parliamentarians supported a call for a non-binding plebiscite on the issue, while five MPs were against and eleven abstained. The referendum is due on 12 October, the same day as the general parliamentary elections.

The signing of Lithuania’s EU accession treaty, which lays out a timetable for closure of Ignalina (Photo: European Commission)

“Our motive is the difficult situation facing Lithuania,” Vytautas Bogusis, who tabled the referendum idea, told AFP. He added that the situation after Ignalina is closed was likely to be “catastrophic” as electricity prices would “rise fourfold”.

The chair of the parliament economic committee, Birute Vesaite, told Reuters that the country “should not remain silent and wait until the others take [its] electricity market share”.

Lithuania seeks to postpone the closure of Ignalina’s remaining parts until 2012, when a new nuclear power plant is supposed to be up and running at the same site.

However, any move to violate existing commitments is certain to bring Lithuania on a collision course with the European Commission, the guardian of European law.

Under its accession treaty, the Baltic state committed itself to closing the Chernobyl-like nuclear power plant. The first unit was closed in December 2004, while the remaining unit – covering 70 percent of the country’s electricity demands – may only operate for another 17 months.

According to European Commission energy spokesperson Ferran Tarradellas Espuny, a delay would require re-negotiation of the accession treaty and approval by all EU governments. “Of course, it is Lithuania’s right to have a referendum, but it is not going to change anything,” he told Reuters.

Lithuania is not the only EU country putting the EU’s executive body under pressure over prior commitments linked to nuclear energy.

Slovakia agreed to shut down two reactors in Jaslovske Bohunice – one in 2006, the second by the end of 2008. Prime Minister Robert Fico wrote a letter to commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in June, calling for more flexibility due to growing dependency on external electricity sources.

Nuclear power covers some 40 percent of Slovakia’s electricity demand. The commission has, however, refused to enter debate on the issue.

© 2008 Euobserver