The European Commission announced yesterday (13 December) that international donors, among which the largest is the EU, have decided to suspend the funding of one specific decommissioning project in the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania.

The project covers the construction of the storage area for the leftover spent fuel and the supply of storage casks for defueling the central’s two reactors.

The decision was taken on the grounds that the operator of the power plant (INPP) and the consortium delivering the project (GNS/NUKEM) have not managed to settle their dispute, now on-going for more than two years, on how to implement the project concretely. Nukem is a “dual national” company based in Germany (NUKEM GmbH) and the United States (NUKEM, Inc.) focused on the civil nuclear fuel market.

As the two reactor units can only be fully dismantled once the spent fuel is stored safely outside the reactors, a delay of the storage facility can lead to significant delays in the overall decommissioning process.

Lithuania has reportedly expressed doubts for quite some time regarding the safety of the containers provided by NUKEM.

In its press release, the EU Commission, as one of the main contributors to the International Decommissioning Support Fund, urges both parties to agree on the implementation as a matter of urgency. The Commission expresses the hope that the suspension of funds will accelerate the settlement.

It explains that in the event that the parties concerned settle the issue, the suspension would be lifted and funds repaid. If no agreement is found, the money may be used for other purposes.

In its Accession Treaty, Lithuania committed to decommission the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. In order to assist Lithuania in this task, the EU has provided financial support. Out of the total decommissioning costs of €2,8 billion, the EU has committed €1,37 billion up to the end of 2013.  

Lithuania estimates it will need €770 million in EU support until 2029 on top of its own funding. In the latest draft for the EU budget for 2014-2020, the funds for Ignalina have been put at €400 million.

Asked by EurActiv to comment, the Lithuanian deputy permanent representative to the EU, Ambassador Arunas Vinciunas, said: “Donors have taken account of the information provided by Lithuania about the negotiations with NUKEM and request to consider freezing the funding for the project implemented by this company until the question of the safety of the spent fuel containers will be fully resolved.”