Lithuania to seek larger share of the nuclear pie

The Baltic Times
TBT staff and wire reports
January 4, 2007

A minor battle is lining up for the Jan. 9 meeting in Warsaw to discuss the specifics of the planned new reactor to be built on the existing site at Ignalina.
Representatives from Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian and Polish energy companies will meet with Lithuanian politicians who are already wanting a bigger stake in the new project. According to a feasibility study, a new single-reactor nuclear power plant with a capacity of 800 megawatts or a two-reactor 1,600-MW facility would require an investment of 2.5 billion to 4 billion euros. The project could be completed in 2015, at the same time that an electricity shortage is likely to hit in the region.

In line with its EU accession deal, Lithuania closed one of Ignalina’s two reactors on Dec. 31, 2004, with the entire plant planned to be closed at the end of 2009.

Having recently made moves to connect its electrical grid to Lithuania’s grid, Poland has also joined in on the new nuclear project, signaling that the rebuild at Ignalina will likely contain two reactors instead of one.

However, the new year brought statements which hinted that an equal and clean four-way split on investments and profits would be unlikely.

On Jan. 2, Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said that Lithuania would seek to have a higher stake in a new nuclear plant project than its partners, due to the higher responsibility of the facility located in Lithuania.

Speaking with Lithuanian Radio, Kirkilas said, “A large part of the responsibility, or perhaps the largest part among the four countries, falls on Lithuania, and in the future, we will be responsible for nuclear waste disposal and other matters. We have the infrastructure, and there will be many problems, related to the construction and other issues. It is natural, therefore, that Lithuania should seek to have more weight in this project.”

The PM also made it clear that more countries were interested in the project commenting that, “Sweden is interested and even the Czech Republic is. The project is growing, and a proper solution will have to be found.”

Indeed Sweden has expressed interest both in building an electricity cable under Baltic sea to Lithuania, similar to the recent cable connecting Finland and Estonia’s electrical grid, along with expressing interest in the construction of the new facility at Ignalina.

The four parties who have concretely stepped up to the project (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland) have tentatively agreed on an equal stake in the future power plant. However, Kirkilas does not consider this a “final” agreement seeing it fair that the country who houses the plant should take more of its spoils.

“It is natural that specialists and politicians raise the issue of a larger share of Lithuania (among the parties to the project – the three Baltic states and Poland). It will be a subject of negotiations, which, I believe, will not be easy. First talks after Poland joined in have already been tough,” Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said in an interview to the Ziniu Radijas news radio on Jan. 4.

The project will be difficult, as many issues still need to be resolved before construction can begin. The reactor design and a financing solution are planned to be completed either this or next year and the division of responsibility and contributions are scheduled to take place at the same time.

How the electricity produced at the new facility will be distributed is an issue that needs to be settled in the future, and the negotiations will be a new test of this historical cooperation on Energy security in the Baltic region.