In a non-binding referendum, the Lithuanians voted to extend the use of the plant, which provides 60% of the country's electricity. Ignalina's supporters say they hope to postpone its closure to 2012, when new capacities will be built, avoiding the reliance of energy imports from Russia.
Low turnout will probably invalidate the referendum. But observers predict a return to power of politicians, favouring a hardline stance towards Brussels on Ignalina and ignoring pre-accession commitments to close it. Although no party won a majority in the 141-member parliament, a coalition of conservative parties is expected to oust the Social Democrats, who have been ruling in different coalitions since 2001.
Ex-president Roland Paksas, a supporter of Ignalina and a hardliner with respect to the EU, is expected to make a comeback in the executive. His Order and Justice party won 14% according to exit polls, second only to the conservative Homeland Union of Andrius Kubilius, with 18%.
Paksas, a former stunt pilot, was elected president in 2003. But he was removed from office by impeachment a year later, accused of ties with the Russian mafia.
Another political figure to make a comeback is Russian-born Victor Uspaskich, also a supporter of Ignalina, who was faced accusations in another graft scandal and had to flee to Russia in 2006. Uspaskich's Labour party is fifth with 10%, exit polls revealed.
Last week, Lithuanian Economy Minister Vytas Navickas said that his country may be forced to extend the use of the nuclear plant. Lithuania is expecting the EU to come up with an action plan by December 2008.
Lithunia has been pushing for a EU-sponsored $3-4 billion joint project with Poland, Estonia and Latvia for providing energy to the country and decreasing its dependence on Russian gas. But the advance has been slow and the country has also been increasingly reluctant to make commitments to reduce CO2 emissions in an ever-more difficult energy situation.