Atomic plant deal welcomed by Japan, faces opposition in Baltic

Lithuania OKs Hitachi nukes


Hitachi Ltd.’s nuclear power plant deal in Lithuania, approved by the country’s legislature Thursday, has been welcomed by the Japanese government and the industry but faces local concern because of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The contract represents what will be Japan’s first export of nuclear infrastructure since the March 2011 triple-meltdown crisis started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station.

Hitachi, which has been seeking to undertake the project in collaboration with General Electric of the United States, said in a comment released Thursday night: “We welcome the approval (of the contract) by the Lithuanian Parliament. We would like to continue working with relevant parties toward finalizing the contract.”

Lithuania’s legislature endorsed a contract with Hitachi for the right to build the Visaginas nuclear plant in a project estimated to be worth ¥400 billion. The vote followed an agreement in March between Hitachi and the Lithuanian government to sign the contract.

An official at the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy welcomed the move, saying the approval was “tantamount to a formal order.”

The new plant — an advanced boiling water reactor facility — is scheduled to go online in 2021.

Ahead of the formal concluding of the contract, the Lithuanian government is tasked with securing agreements with neighboring Latvia and Estonia, which it expects to put up capital for, and receive power from, the proposed nuclear power plant.

But residents in Lithuania and the other two Baltic states have voiced reservations about the construction of a nuclear plant amid growing calls to shun atomic power in light of the Fukushima disaster.

A public opinion poll in Lithuania by a private research company in May showed 65 percent did not support construction of a new atomic plant.

At Thursday’s vote in the legislature, many lawmakers abstained, with only 74 members of the 141-seat chamber taking part. Sixty-nine of them voted for construction of the plant.

Lithuania had previously operated the Ignalia nuclear plant, an identical model to the Chernobyl plant that suffered a catastrophic accident in 1986. Opened during the Soviet era, the plant met more than 70 percent of the country’s power needs. But it was shut down in 2009 after the European Union demanded its closure as a condition to join the bloc.

Ever since, Lithuania has managed to meet its energy needs through imports of natural gas and electricity from Russia. The Lithuanian government is hoping the new nuclear power project will help it grow out of its energy dependence on Russia.

Hitachi as well as Toshiba Corp. have supplied equipment to the Fukushima plant, crippled by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. They face dim prospects in securing orders in Japan and are apparently placing their hopes on demand overseas.

Hitachi is aiming to boost its revenue from the nuclear power business to ¥360 billion in fiscal 2020, a roughly 130 percent increase from fiscal 2011. By 2030, it is planning to obtain orders for 38 reactors worldwide, targeting markets in Eastern Europe and Asia outside Japan.

Toshiba also targets ¥1 trillion in revenue from its nuclear power operations in fiscal 2017. Its major target is the United States, home of Westinghouse Electric, a unit under its umbrella.

According to Toshiba, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received applications for 28 nuclear reactors. Half of them are expected to be Westinghouse’s new reactors. Nuclear power “remains in sustained demand as an essential energy source,” said Toshiba.

Before Fukushima, Japan obtained a nuclear power plant order from Vietnam in 2010. Japan is also aiming at securing orders from Turkey and Jordan.