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EU won't let Lithuania delay closing Soviet-era atomic reactor

The European Union said it won't allow Lithuania to operate a Soviet-era nuclear reactor beyond its scheduled shutdown in 2009, potentially crimping power supplies to the Baltic nation and surrounding countries.

„They have to close the plant by the agreed date,” EU energy spokesman Ferran Tarradellas Espuny said in a phone interview today. „This is not subject to discussion. The Lithuanian parliament is undeterred. Today it plans to approve a request to the EU for permission to delay closing the Ignalina plant, going back on one of the pledges Lithuania made to join the European community in 2004. The ex-Soviet state is lobbying for a delay that would help it cope with scarce domestic energy sources. A new nuclear plant to replace Ignalina won't be operating before 2015, meaning energy supplies will be strained. Lithuania relies on the 1,500-megawatt reactor to generate enough power for the nation and to export it to neighboring countries. The planned reactor will be built by Lithuania, Poland and Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia to diversify their energy sources and trim dependence on imported natural gas from Russia.

The 19-year-old generator uses the same reactor as the Chernobyl nuclear station did in Ukraine. It was upgraded with new safety technology in the wake of the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the world's worst nuclear-reactor disaster, which contaminated parts of Europe with radiation. The plant's 1,500 megawatt-capacity is enough to supply about 3 million average European homes, though the EU wants potentially unsafe reactors closed. „Lithuania signed an agreement that has been ratified by all member states” to close Ignalina, Tarradellas Espuny said. Ignalina, named for the nearby city of the same name, closed one of its two reactors two years ago. Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas criticized the parliament's plans to renegotiate the closing, saying Lithuania should concentrate on building a new nuclear plant instead, in an interview broadcast January 16. (Bloomberg)