Thursday

19th Apr 2018

Soviet-era atomic plant troubles Lithuania

Construction of a nuclear waste storage facility meant to house 15,550 spent fuel rod assemblies from Lithuania's decommissioned Soviet-era nuclear power plant, Ignalina, is almost four years behind schedule.

The facility will contain the rods on-site for 50 years in 190 dry-store casks, but funding disputes with the European Commission, Lithuanian political foot-dragging and overall poor planning have thrown it and possibly Ignalina's entire decommissioning project off schedule.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Dials inside the Ignalina's reactor 1 control room (Photo: EUobserver)

Zilvinas Jurksus, director general of Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP), told reporters on Monday (9 July) that the risk of contamination is real if the rods are not properly stored.

"It is one thing to build a unit [reactor]; it is another thing to dismantle it. The further we postpone, the more it will cost," he warned.

The rods should eventually be removed from the temporary facility and then stored deep underground for hundreds of years. The location of the burial site has yet to be determined.

The storage facility comes with a €193 million price tag and should have been completed in 2009. But new cask designs led to delays first to 2011 and then again to December 2013, say INPP.

The German-based engineering company GNS, which is contracted to build the casks for the facility, also introduced "deviations" from the original design which could imperil their safety, claims Jurksus.

INPP says it needs the EU to disburse an additional €770 million in its next seven-year budget cycle to be able to continue dismantling the site. Their total estimated cost for up until 2020 would be €870 million, with Lithuania footing €100 million of the bill.

The European Commission, however, proposed €210 million in additional assistance and then only up until 2017.

Should the commission fail to front the extra money, INPP claims it will not be able to operate and maintain the "safe keeping and cooling of fuel in the rectors and pools," nor it will be able to operate and maintain the spent fuel storage facilities currently under construction.

"If we don’t get the financing then we'll have to dismiss two-thirds or more than 1,000 staff," says Jurksus. Around 700 would have to remain to operate the storage facilities.

The company also says the unusual nature of the Soviet-era reactors make them complex to fully dismantle.

The channelised large power reactors (RBMK) are a Soviet-era novelty and the only of its kind on EU soil. The Russians still have similarly designed reactors but are considerably less powerful, at around 1,000 megawatts.

Aside from the Lithuanians, no one has ever attempted to decommission an RBMK. Ignalina has two RBMK-1,500 megawatt units. The first was shut down in 2004 and the second in 2009.

"Nobody knows the state of the reactor. We are now working on the reactor core itself to find out," said Jurksus. He believes the graphite is probably highly contaminated.

The entire site, aside from few administrative buildings and the storage facility, should be covered in grass by 2029, but Jurksus says another ten years is more feasible, with possibly up to €50 million in additional capital per year needed.

The total allocated cost of Ignalina NPP decommissioning is already estimated at €2.9 billion phased over 2000 to 2029. Just over €1 billion has been allocated by the EU until 2014 with Lithuania contributing 12 percent.

Lithuania had agreed to shut down the first reactor under the terms of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) grant agreement in 1994.

They then agreed in 2002 to shut down the second reactor by the end of 2009 to help conclude EU membership negotiations.

Inside the core

Ina Dauksiene, a 16-year veteran of the site, led a small group of journalists through two changing rooms, a labyrinth of pink-coloured stairwells, hallways, and then down a 500-metre light-blue corridor before reaching the inside of the first reactor.

The floor, inside the towering reactor, is encased in graphite stacks and concrete with a water reservoir below. Tubes, some 10 metres in length, hang from the opposite wall.

A single engineer monitors the reactor from inside a control room that once employed 70 people. Dust has since collected on the analogue dials with inscriptions written in Russian Cyrillic above gauges, buttons and monitors.

Outside, the surrounding area is plush with pine forests and a vast lake, next to INPP, touches the shores of Belarus a short distance away.

The closest town, Visaginas, is only 8 km from INPP and was purposely built by the Soviets to house the engineers and workers who would maintain it. The town is reportedly run-down, with high unemployment.

Lithuania faces funding gap in dismantling Chernobyl-type plant

A precondition for Lithuania's EU membership, the closure of its Chernobyl-type nuclear plant in Ignalina is behind schedule and faces a funding gap of €1.5 billion, Lithuania's energy minister has said. But experts question the way money was spent.

Analysis

Beyond macho: Turkish-EU ties

Turkey has belittled the EU in a week of macho posturing, but strategic relations go deeper than the rhetoric.

EU tells Moldova it is still corrupt

In an annual progress report, European Commission says "independence of justice, law enforcement as well as national anti-corruption authorities need substantial improvement".

EU divided over Western Balkan enlargement

After the European Commission presented its Western Balkans strategy last week, with a view of possibly integrating the region by 2025, some EU ministers were less enthusiastic after their first discussion of the new policy.

Opinion

Appeasement will not work with Erdogan

As EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker meet president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Bulgaria, their reluctance to use their diminishing leverage with Ankara means his dismantling of Turkey's democracy only speeds up.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  2. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  3. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit
  4. Merkel and Macron meet to finetune eurozone reform plans
  5. Turkey snap elections set for 24 June
  6. Post-Brexit UK passports to be printed in France after all
  7. EU Parliament condemns Selmayr appointment
  8. EU trade commissioner: we are not offering US anything

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  2. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  3. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  4. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  8. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  11. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  12. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris

Latest News

  1. Draghi to stay part of secretive 'lobby' group
  2. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists
  3. Getting secret EU trilogue documents: a case study
  4. Selmayr case scars Parliament and Commission
  5. Beyond macho: Turkish-EU ties
  6. 'Flobert' guns - Europe's latest terror loophole
  7. EU investment bank confirms secrecy of VW fraud report
  8. More commitment to renewables from Council, please

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  2. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  3. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  4. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  5. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  6. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  7. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  8. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  9. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  10. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  11. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  12. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership