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Lithuania Agrees to Shut Down Chernobyl-Style Nuclear Plant by 2009 - 2002-06-11


Lithuania has agreed to shut down its Chernobyl-type nuclear power plant by 2009, following years of pressure by the European Union. EU officials hailed the development, but the exact cost has yet to be worked out. Lithuania plans to close one reactor at its Ignalina plant before 2005 and unit two by 2009.

The issue had been the main obstacle to Lithuania's efforts to become an EU member, and EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen has praised the move.

"I must say that we had a major breakthrough during these negotiations, because this is one of the most important events of the last years. The fact is that we have now a firm and clear commitment from Lithuania on the closure dates of Ignalina.

The European Union has long said the Ignalina nuclear plant is a potential environmental threat. Commissioner Verheugen says the decision to shut down the facility is a victory for nuclear safety, and shows the importance of the E-U enlargement process.

"The fact that for the first time that we have a clear agreement on the closure dates of an LBMK-type reactor, a Chernobyl reactor...shows clearly that European integration brings more nuclear safety for European citizens."

The facility's two nuclear reactors are based in the same technology as those in Chernobyl, Ukraine, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986, although some safety improvements have been made at the Lithuanian facility.

The shutdown will be an expensive operation. Ignalina provides more than two-thirds of Lithuania's electricity, and analysts say closing it will cause big increases in the cost of power and hurt the country's economy.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis estimates the cost at more than $2.2 billion. He added that it is not clear how long negotiations with the European Union on the money will take.

"We will start to negotiate about financial support from this level. How long it will take, no one knows. I would like to agree on this financing as soon as possible, of course."

Mr. Verheugen, the EU enlargement commissioner, refused to discuss a monetary figure, but commented that Lithuania is confident that it will receive adequate support from the European Union. An EU statement recognized the "exceptional financial burden" the closure puts on the Baltic state.

Lithuania, a nation of about 3.5 million people, has been interested in joining the European Union even as early as 2004. EU officials have acknowledged the pro-western and pro-reform attitudes of the Baltic country and consider it a leading candidate for membership.