Lithuania follows nuclear path


Staff Writer

While the meltdown crisis in Fukushima has raised awareness around the world of the dangers of nuclear power, Lithuania, with its limited natural resources, appears to have little choice but to rely on atomic energy to reduce its heavy reliance on natural gas from Russia.

“We now import about 70 percent of electricity from other countries to Lithuania,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said in a recent interview in Tokyo. “We do not have oil resources, gas resources and coal (resources). So for us, nuclear energy is an obvious choice.”

Lithuania plans to build a nuclear plant in Visaginas by 2020 and reached in December a tentative agreement on the construction with Hitachi Ltd. and its Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd. unit.

The prime minister arrived in Japan on Sunday on a five-day visit to meet Hitachi officials as well as members of Japan’s business community.

Speaking about the March 11 disasters, he said that Lithuania was “deeply touched” by the disaster and tragedy suffered by the Japanese people.

In 2009, the Baltic state shut down its Ignalina nuclear power plant, one of Europe’s largest, which was built in the Soviet era. The European Union required the closure of the plant’s two reactors, which were similar in design to those at the Chernobyl power plant, as a condition of entry into the EU.

Since the closure, power costs have reportedly risen by as much as 20 percent.

Asked if the Fukushima crisis affected Lithuania’s plan to build a new nuclear power plant, the prime minister said: “Of course, the natural disaster puts additional requests on the safety of technologies.”

Kubilius also said the country aims to generate 20 to 25 percent of its electricity through wind power, biomass and other renewables in the future.

“But in Europe, only a few countries decided to stop development of nuclear projects. Quite many countries, especially in our Baltic region, are continuing development of nuclear projects,” he said, citing Sweden, Finland and Poland, in addition to Lithuania and the two other Baltic states as examples.

Kubilius said any success Hitachi has in building the Visaginas nuclear plant will only help the Japanese heavy machinery maker win more tenders for other nuclear projects in these European countries.

Kubilius said he is sure Hitachi will pass its advanced technology standards on to Europe.

With the concession agreement tentatively signed in December, the prime minister said his government hopes the official signing will come in a couple of months. The Lithuanian government also hopes all necessary approval procedures will be completed by midyear.

How much Hitachi invests is still under negotiation, he said. Other investors include Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and possibly Poland, he said.

He also stressed the strong support of nuclear power among the Lithuanian people.

“In general, more than 60 percent of Lithuanians are in favor of nuclear energy. In the local town of Visaginas, 90 percent of people are in favor of nuclear energy,” he said. “For us, nuclear energy brings real energy independence.”