Lithuania will find it difficult to ensure the security of energy supply without building a new nuclear power plant, Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said.
Oettinger said on Wednesday (14 November) that if a nuclear power plant is not built in Lithuania, the problems with energy supply security will persist in the entire region, including the Baltic countries, Finland and the Kaliningrad region, the Baltic News Service (BNS) reported.
Lithuanians voted in a non-binding referendum on 14 October against building the Visaginas nuclear power plant, which is planned to replace Ignalina, a Soviet-designed nuclear station closed in 2009 as part of its accession deal (see background).
The new power plant was planned to be build with technology from Japan's Hitachi.
It is up to the Lithuanian authorities to decide whether to consider the results of the referendum or not, Oettinger said.
However, Lithuania is still struggling to form a government after the second round of parliamentary elections held on 28 October. The outgoing centre-right government had ambitious plans to reduce the country’s energy reliance from Russia.
Alongside the building of Visaginas at the Ignalina site, the government planned for a floating LNG terminal when the current long-term supply contract with Russia's Gazprom expires. An agreement was recently signed with the port authority of Klaipeda, and transmission pipelines should be operational by the end of 2013.
The Social Democrats, who emerged as the largest political force following the election, oppose Visaginas but support the LNG terminal so long as it is built as a regional project together with Latvia and Estonia.
“If a new nuclear power plant is not built, it may be necessary to increase the imports of electricity or enhance the operations of gas-fired power plants. Hence a gas terminal is an excellent and important solution for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia,” Oettinger said.
The commissioner also said that the European Union should speak to Russia, one of the strongest market players, with one voice. Lithuania’s outgoing Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said Wednesday that if his country would drop the plans to build Visaginas, this decision would benefit Russia.
“If we do not build our own nuclear power plant, then our money, the money of our consumers, our residents, which we pay for the import of electricity, will go for the construction of the nuclear power plant in [Russia's] Kaliningrad Region,” Kubilius said, as quoted by the Russian agency RIA Novosti.
Lithuania has relied on Russia for 80% of its energy since the closure of the Ignalina nuclear power plant in 2009. The former Soviet republic sees itself as vulnerable because of its dependence on Russia.
In 1992, at a G7 summit, it was decided that Ignalina in Lithuania, four units of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria, and Bohunice in Slovakia had to be closed as they presented a high level of risk. All these nuclear units are now closed, 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 is a heavy financial burden for these countries, the European Union provides financial support.