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Nuclear power ever more important for Europe

Nuclear power will become increasingly necessary throughout Europe in order to meet growing demand and combat disruptions of other energy supplies, the Polish and Lithuanian economy ministries said.

“Nuclear power was out of favor for about 20 years in Europe,” said Arturas Dainius, an undersecretary at the Lithuanian economy ministry, at a conference in Warsaw today. “But oil supply has unfortunately become a political issue and we are concerned that we don't have a secure supply of energy resources.” The Lithuanian government plans to build a new nuclear plant near Ignalina, the site of a Soviet-era reactor that is due to be closed by the end of 2009, to help diversify the region's energy sources and reduce dependence on Russia.

According to an agreement drafted in December, Poland will take a 22% stake in the project, matched by Latvia and Estonia, while Lithuania will hold 34%. The €4 billion power plant will have a capacity of about 1,600 megawatts. “It would be difficult today to find a nuclear reactor that could be used to supply four countries,” said Polish Deputy Economy Minister Piotr Naimski at the conference. “So if we realize this project together, it will be a milestone in energy policy cooperation. And it would be important not only for our region but also as an example for others.” Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has already begun talks with the three Baltic states on the investment, Naimski said.

The EU became Russia's largest energy market in 2004 when eight former Soviet satellite states became members, while two more joined this January. Supplies of both oil and gas from Russia to several EU states were temporarily disrupted this year after a pricing dispute between the Russian authorities and Belarus, through which Russia transports about a fifth of its gas exports. The closure forced countries like Germany and Poland to tap stockpiles and renewed an EU-wide debate about energy source diversification.

Polish Economy Minister Piotr Wozniak said during a trip to the US in November that he wanted a public debate this year on the advantages of his country having its own nuclear power station. Poland will gain experience for the project by finding and training qualified personnel for the Ignalina plant, according to Naimski. “In the long run, we'll probably be faced with building our own nuclear power station here in Poland,” Naimski said at today's conference. (Bloomberg)