VILNIUS – The Lithuanian energy minister said his country needs a nuclear power plant to reduce its dependence on Russia, secure economic development and employment, and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
“If you depend on imports, it is not safe,” Arvydas Sekmokas said in an interview Tuesday after Lithuania decided to order a nuclear power plant from Hitachi Ltd.
Since 2009, when Lithuania shut down a nuclear plant that had provided over 70 percent of its electricity, the country has been buying about 65 percent of its electricity from Russia and depended wholly on Russia for the natural gas it needs for thermal power generation.
Sekmokas said another reason was Moscow’s temporary suspension of crude oil exports to Lithuania in 2006, after Russia’s Yukos Oil Co., which was controlling a Lithuanian refiner, went bankrupt after a years-long battle with the government of Vladimir Putin.
“Russia sometimes is using energy for policymaking matters,” Sekmokas said, adding that depending on Russia for energy “is not safe.”
Before finalizing the deal with Hitachi, Lithuania needs to agree with Latvia and Estonia over their investment in the nuclear plant and how much of the electricity to transmit to the two neighboring Baltic countries.
Sekmokas said he expects an agreement with Latvia and Estonia to be reached this year.
He emphasized the advantages of nuclear power for Lithuania, including the presence of relevant infrastructure and experts — the legacy of operating the Ignalina power plant, a Soviet-era relic.
He also noted the problems posed by the greenhouse gases emitted by thermal power, which is based on fossil fuels, and the “fluctuating” output of wind- and solar-power plants that makes them unsuitable as primary electricity sources.
Lithuania, however, is divided over the plan to build the new nuclear plant in Visaginas because of the disaster that took place at the poorly protected Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku.