Europe safer, Lithuania poorer. Ignalina closure

1 Jan 2010

People at Visaginas are frustrated. According to plan last reactor at the Soviet-era nuclear plant of Ignalina has been shut down at 11 p.m. local time. The future has become unpredictable for thousands of high qualified specialists. Will the town of 25,000 inhabitants be abandoned by most of them? The youngsters have already left looking for better jobs in the capital – 2 hours ride by train – or in Russia.

Vilnius agreed to close the facility by 2010 in order to win admission to the EU in May 2004. The plant was built in the 1980 and is considered by many to be unsafe since it shares design flaws with the Chernobyl unit that exploded in 1986.

Lithuania – one of the two most nuclear-energy dependent nations along with France – had been hoping that Brussels would allow it to keep Ignalina open for another two to three years, but the European Commission flatly refused. The EU allocated about $1.2 billion to cover part of the plant’s decommissioning costs.

The country risks to become too dependent on Russian gas supplies. Last shutdown reactor had a capacity of 1,320 megawatts, making it one of the largest reactors in the world. It supplied over 70 percent of Lithuania’s electricity needs. Power prices in the country of 3.3 million people were to rise by 30 per cent for households and 20 per cent for businesses, marking a new blow amid one of the world’s deepest economic crises.

Lithuania’s economy shrank by 15.2 per cent in 2009, the Government estimated, and the nuclear shutdown could shave up to 1 percentage point off gross domestic product this year, experts say

The former Soviet republic is seeking European investors to underwrite construction of a new nuclear power plant. Among the companies under consideration are Britain’s Centrica PLC, Germany’s RWE, Electricite de France, Germany’s E.ON AG energy corporation, the Czech Republic’s CEZ, Finland’s Fortum Oyj, Italy’s ENEL, France’s GDF Suez, Sweden’sVattenfall, U.S. company Duke Energy, Japan’s Toshiba, France’s Areva and Spain’s Iberdrola.

 After January 2009 gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine leaving half Europe without supplies was the EU decision to shut down Ignalina the right one and in the right moment?

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