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Lithuania’s Move to Gain Energy Independence Complicated by Russkies

10:08 AM, Jun 24, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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As part of its European Union entry agreement in 2004, Lithuania agreed to close the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP). Nuclear experts determined that it presented safety risks – similar, in fact, to those at Chernobyl – including insufficient fire protection, lack of a containment structure, and insufficient diversity of emergency shutdown systems. The first unit of INPP was shut down in December of 2004, and the second unit was shut down in December of 2009.

INPP is still decommissioning the plant, but there have been significant delays that Lithuania is attributing to NUKEM, the subsidiary of Atomstroyexport, which is a Russian company. Lithuanians blame NUKEM for a number of mistakes (indeed, mistakes that have been prevalent in other projects conducted by the company across the region).

NUKEM may going bankrupt, and the delays have led to a dispute between NUKEM and INPP, causing the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERDB), which is administrating the international fund for the decommissioning project, to step in and demand that INPP put aside their differences and work with NUKEM to finish the projects. It’s strange that Lithuanian authorities and INPP are under pressure to agree with the conditions NUKEM is demanding.

Lithuanian officials, it seems, want out from the current agreement, hoping to bring in experts from the U.S., Canada, or to participate in the decommissioning project. But it isn’t that easy.

Lithuania thinks that NUKEM is putting the completion of the decommissioning project at risk. But EBRD policy requires only member countries to work on decommissioning projects. So it looks like, at least for now, Lithuania must live with the risk of the decommissioning project—knowing full well that it’s at the hands of a company that Lithuania seems to have lost faith in, and that is a Russian entity.

With the nuclear crisis in Japan as a result of the massive tsunami that hit the nation a few months ago, “Lithuania [has] an opportunity to speak out against Belarus and Russia when the European Union, and major European players such as Germany, may be more willing to listen,” according to Stratfor. Such a small country surrounded by big nuclear power plants lends a certain amount of risk to Lithuanians that not all are willing to accept—particularly when the Lithuanians themselves wouldn’t be in control of the power plants, and the safety regulations the power plants would be subjected to.

Things could change. But it would require a helping hand from the U.S. and EU. The Lithuanians want to control their own energy destiny, and so far the government has selected five companies who are interested in helping it create its own power source.

Lithuania achieved political independence from the Russians in 1990. When energy independence will be achieved, though, is now dependent on whether the Obama administration can abandon their silly "reset" plan and whether the EU will have the strength to speak out against the Russians.

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