Lithuania is making final preparations to close down one of the world’s largest nuclear reactors, but debate rages about whether it is necessary.
Shutting down the Ignalina plant by January 2010 was a condition for Lithuania’s entry into the European Union in 2004 over safety concerns.
But the move has been fiercely opposed by some Lithuanians who claim the risk has been exaggerated and their power prices will now rise.
The Soviet-era nuclear plant uses the same reactors as those installed in the Chernboyl plant in Ukraine, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident.
Lithuania failed to convince Brussels to extend Ignalina’s lifespan, despite a referendum last year in which the majority of voters said yes to running the plant until 2012. The result was not considered binding, however, as the turnout was less than 50 percent.
The plant’s General Director, Viktor Shevaldin, has argued against the closure. He says international experts have estimated the probability of such a major accident at Ignalina to be very slight.
Lithuania has begun a search for an investor for the construction of a new power plant, saying it hopes to build it by 2018. But that does not answer the immediate concerns of those worried about the effects of the closure.
Before the first reactor was closed down in 2004, officials say almost 90 percent of power needs were met by Ignalina. The second reactor was opened in 1987. Decommissioning over 25 years will cost an estimated one billion euros, some one thousand jobs will be lost and some experts predict electricity prices will jump by some 30 percent.
The European Union is reported to have agreed to pay money towards decommissioning and compensation until 2013. In the meantime, Lithuania plans to import electricity, mainly from Estonia, Russia and Ukraine.