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.
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 first unit of Ignalina having been shut down in December 2004 and the second in December 2009.
Only the second unit at Ignalina supplied about 70% of the country's energy demand. Lithuania is part of the Russian electricity grid, and after the closure of Ignalina, it must import more than 80% of its energy from Russia.
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 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.”