The European Commission has issued a favourable opinion for the construction of the Visaginas nuclear power plant in Lithuania. However, it stressed that the plant should remain economically viable, even though two Russian-backed reactors are planned in the vicinity.
At a G7 summit in 1992, it was decided that four units of Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear power plant, along with Bohunice in Slovakia and Ignalina in Lithuania, had to be closed as they presented a high level of risk. All these nuclear units are now out of operation, the last to be shut down in December 2009 being the second unit of Ignalina.
The closing of the nuclear power stations was negotiated as part of the countries' EU accession treaties. As this early closure was a heavy financial burden for these countries, the European Union provided financial support.
Nuclear decommissioning is the final step in the lifecycle of a nuclear installation, covering all activities from shutdown and removal of fissile material to environmental restoration.
The Lithuanian Ministry of Energy stressed in a statement that Visaginas will be the first regional nuclear energy project in the EU’s Baltic region.
It involves three national energy companies in the Baltic States and strategic investors Hitachi and General Electric through their joint venture Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd.
The Commission's opinion, issued on 8 June, enables nuclear energy projects to apply for EU financing, the statement reads. It also confirms the project's aim to fulfil the country’s prime energy policy goal - energy independence by 2020.
Contacted by EurActiv, the European Commission made it clear that it would not give financial support to the production of nuclear energy in Lithuania – or elsewhere in the EU. A Commission official also said nuclear projects are not eligible as “projects of European Interest” under the trans-European energy networks (TEN-E).
However, the EU executive's positive opinion is a precondition for the project to receive loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB).
The Visaginas plant is to be built at the site of the Soviet-era Ignalina nuclear station that was shut down in 2009 (see background).
A sentence in the Commission’s opinion, however, may prove problematic. The EU executive says that Visaginas should remain economically viable "even when there will be few new nuclear power plants in the region".
Belarus is reportedly planning to build a nuclear plant with Russian technology in Astraviec, some 50 km from Vilnius. Russia is ready to finance the construction of the plant to help its cash-strapped neighbour, according to press reports. A general contract for building the plant is expected to be signed this month, the Belarus news media reported.
In addition, Russia recently started to build a nuclear power plant in its enclave of Kaliningrad, which also borders Lithuania. The Kaliningrad plant is seen as a counter-project to Visaginas. According to Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy state corporation, 49% of the shares of the Kaliningrad plant will be offered to EU companies, making it the first Russian nuclear power plant with foreign participation.
Visaginas will be equipped with a Hitachi-GE Advanced Boiling Water Reactor, which is described as the only generation III nuclear reactor with an enhanced level of safety, with a net capacity of 1,340 megawatts. A concession agreement with the compnay was concluded on 30 March.
The total investment is estimated at €5 billion, with construction expected to start in 2015. Commercial operations are due to start in 2020-2022.
According to available data, the Kalingrad plant will rely on two VVER-1200 pressurised water reactors with a capacity of 1,150 MW each. The first reactor is planned to be operational by 2017 and the second one in 2018. The total price tag is expected to reach €6.8 billion.
Lithuania has repeatedly expressed security concerns over Russian plans to build nuclear power plants in its neighbourhood. Darius Semaška, an advisor to the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, recently said that Russian claims that it had provided answers to Vilnius were not true.