22nd Mar 2018

Lithuania faces funding gap in dismantling Chernobyl-type plant

  • The Ignalina closure is taking longer than planned (Photo: wikipedia)

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, but the EU unwilling to top up its contribution, Lithuanian energy minister Arvydas Sekmokas told a group of journalists on Wednesday (23 November).

Vilnius says it needs €870 million for the 2014-2020 period, but so far, the European Commission has planned to earmark only €229 million out of an envelope of €500 million for the three countries where Soviet reactors need to be decommissioned: Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia. A final proposal is set to be presented on Thursday to energy ministers meeting in Brussels.

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"We understand the current financial situation in the EU, with Greece and other troubled economies in the south. But we also insist on solidarity and the principle of burden sharing," Sekmokas stressed.

Energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger recently wrote a warning letter to Vilnius, expressing his "concern" about the delays in the decommissioning work.

But the Lithuanian official says the endeavour has proven more complicated than expected as it is the first time a nuclear plant using the same flawed technology as the Chernobyl plant is being decommissioned. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded in 1986. It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history, with the site due to be cleared by 2065.

"We are trying to speed up the process and optimise the costs, but we don't want to compromise on safety. The delay is also linked to the performance of the contractor: People are not motivated, they want to keep this thing going, not to dismantle it," the minister explained.

The 2030 target date set for the complete dismantling of the two reactors and storage of nuclear fuel and radioactive waste remains, but "we have to catch up with the current schedule," Sekmokas admitted. And if the EU does not step up its contribution, the decommissioning process faces a €1.5 billion gap in its funding up til 2030.

"We are in a consultation process, it is ongoing," the minister said, recognising that if no EU money is made available, Lithuanian taxpayers will be hit by the burden.

So far, most of the €1 billion already received from the EU and other international donors has been mainly used to build the necessary storage facilities. But none has been completed yet.

And unlike Slovakia and Bulgaria, Lithuania plans to build a new nuclear plant on the very same site where the Soviet-type reactors are being decommissioned. Plans by all three Baltic states and Poland to build this plant are to be carried out by Japan's energy company Hitachi and the US conglomerate General Electric.

The Lithuanian energy minister says he is confident the new plant will abide by all international safety standards, unlike two Russian projects being built just across the border in Belarus and the Russian enclave, Kaliningrad.

But Green activists following the construction of all three projects say that is "complete nonsense", since Russia does have the manpower and decades-long expertise with nuclear technology.

"The problems in closing Ignalina have demonstrated that we are a small country with very limited financial and human resources. There is a clear lack of competence and expertise in managing this process. Building a new plant on top of this will double the risks. And it raises the question of whether the EU decommissioning funds are not being used as hidden subsidies for the new plant," Linas Vainius from the Lithuanian Green Movement, a local grassroot group, told this website.

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