The Baltic Course  

Ignalina - the pros and cons

By Zhidrunas Damauskas, Lietuvos Rytas

The Ignalina nuclear power plant, the only plant producing atomic power in the Baltic states, will by the request of politicians be closed by 2010. A few more decades will still be necessary to carry out the work connected to decommissioning the nuke plant and export or store nuclear waste. Outside the Baltics, closing atomic plants is becoming a new branch of industry compensating social consequences caused by the shutdown of nuclear reactors

Subject to closure

The author of this article had the opportunity to visit nuclear power plants in Sweden and Scotland. The plant in Dounreay (Scotland) has been out of operation already for eight years and the Swedish plant Barseback will be closed next year (one of the two blocks does not already function).

In both countries the fate of nuclear reactors was sealed by politicians. In referendum held few decades ago the Swedish people expressed their opinion supporting the closure of the nuclear reactors, considering they were too dangerous. In Great Britain, the Parliament decided it was not worth spending large sums of money for the research of fast neutron nuclear reactors that could have been found in Dounreay. Atomic energetics in Great Britain is generally considered to be too expensive.

  • The Barseback nuke employs 320 people
  • 2,400 people were employed at Dounreay
  • Ignalina employs 4,600 people
  • Both in Sweden and Scotland the closing of nuclear reactors is not such a big problem since atomic power run by a number of plants accounts for correspondingly 50% and 25% of the total output of electric power (in Lithuania this figure constitutes approximately 80%). Shutdown of nuclear power stations in Sweden and Scotland leaves little impact on tariffs, and the money necessary to satisfy all needs connected with decommissioning of the plant is found easily. Former employees receive big compensations; however, both countries, as well as Lithuania, still do not know where to put the nuclear waste.

    According to George Bismark, vice-president of the Swedish company Barseback Kraft, which operates the atomic power plant in Barseback, the town will spend 600 million dollars on the closure of one block. Each year the said company receives 40 million dollars from the government for safe exploitation of one block.

    It is estimated that 4.3 billion dollars will be spent on decommissioning the plant over a period of 50-60 years.

    New industry

    According to Neil Money, head of the company involved in the development of business infrastructure in the Caithness region where the Dounreay nuclear power station is located, closure of atomic power plants is a new fast developing branch of industry attracting new investments and diversifying local business.

    "News of closing the plant was considered to be bad news by local residents, but in reality it is a positive thing since the whole process of decommissioning of the station creates many new jobs. A thousand of people have got jobs over the last three years and many more will be employed with the beginning of construction works. This process will continue for at least 20 years and only then we expect a decline", said Colin Punler, communications manager of the same company.

    After shutdown of the station employees received compensations in the amount of three annual salaries (the salary of the employees was 15,000 - 20,000 sterling pounds per annum), which were spent on buying luxury cars and building houses. 1,200 specialists and 1,000 more people from contracting organizations are currently employed at Ignalina.

    Neil Money affirmed that the unemployment level after the closure of the station increased twice but later the situation stabilized and presently the unemployment in the region constitutes 3.3% in comparison with 4.5% in Scotland and 3.1% in the whole territory of Great Britain.

    Decommissioning of the station started two years ago but it is forecast that new factories necessary for implementation of work connected with cessation of exploitation regime of the atomic plant will be built and operate over the next 20 years. Basically the work will be done by foreign companies but it is planned to attract also the local labor force.

    Unemployment is inevitable

    Erdvilas Adomaitis, researcher at the Lithuanian Institute of Energetics who also visited Dounreay, is convinced that the closure of the Ignalina nuclear power plant will inevitably cause unemployment in Lithuania. Moreover, in difference from Great Britain, the European Union, which finances closure of the station, will not allow to spend such a sum of money on compensations to former employees.

    He believes that increase in the unemployment level after closing of INPS is inevitable since the whole economy of Visaginas town with population of more than 30 thousand people is closely connected with operation of the atomic plant.

    Business school from the Scottish town of Dundee together with the British company British Executive Service Overseas has planned to set up an incubator of high technologies and fast developing business, which will help local businessmen in Visaginas to develop their business and create new jobs.

    Besides, British experts believe that expansion of tourism and transport infrastructure, as well as establishment of companies working on the Russian market is possible not only in Visaginas but also in the neighboring Latvian town of Daugavpils which has basically Russian-speaking population. Specialists are also convinced that with joint efforts by putting pressure upon the EU, Lithuania and Latvia can succeed in receiving significant financial support for this project from various structural funds.

    Approximately 2.72 billion dollars will be required in order to decommission the Lithuanian power station, and two more billion dollars will be spent on the storage of nuclear waste (only after 2065).

    Ignalina, using Soviet-built RBMK reactors, will be closed upon the request of the EU, which Lithuania has intended to join in 2004. After the tragedy in Chernobyl this type of reactor has been recognized of unsafe usage by western countries.

    Lithuania has already promised the EU to close the first block until 2005. Nevertheless, the exact date is yet unknown and most likely it will be in 2009. But before that, the EU will have to give a firm promise that the funding for closure of the plant will definitely be allocated. In case the money is not allotted (which is unlikely to happen) the block might continue working.

    What consequences can be expected in Lithuania and in the whole region in connection with the decommissioning of the most powerful unit in terms of electricity output - The Ignalina nuclear power plant? - This question and more was posed by The Baltic Course to academic Jurgis Vilemas, director of the Lithuanian Institute of Energetics and member of the International Nuclear Safety Committee.

    The most likely consequences in Latvia will be felt more than in Lithuania since the price for electric power produced by the nuke is lower in Latvia. Due to this reason Latvia will have to look for new suppliers who probably might sell much more expensive power. Things will turn out good for Latvia if it reaches an agreement with Russia on the supply of inexpensive electric power; nevertheless, if Russia loses its main rival - Lithuania - the price will naturally go up.

    The price of electric power after shutdown of the plant will, of course, increase also in Lithuania but the growth is not expected to be too large - production costs of electric power might increase by approximately three Lithuanian cents.

    How will the deficit of electricity be compensated after closure of the plant?

    Only one block is currently operating at Ignalina, and even this block is not working at full, so the whole system is not experiencing any problems. The situation might change in winter season. The shortage of electric power will be compensated by Elektrenai power station in Lithuania and Estonian stations, so the vacuum will be filled amid the price increase for electric power.

    What is your forecast in relation to social problems in the Russian-speaking town of Visaginas, which is the location of the plant?

    There will be no problems in comparison to what has happened with other branches of industry. Just take a look at what has happened to the electronics industry in all three Baltic countries - it has practically disappeared and thousands of people have lost their jobs. The same can be observed in metal processing industry, and nobody has paid attention to this fact or raised any discussions.

    Only five thousand people are employed at Ignalina but in future large sums of money from various structural funds of the EU will be channeled into creation of new jobs, as well as into funding of work concerning decommissioning of the plant. Therefore, in my opinion, this region is in more advantageous positions in comparison to regions or simply big industrial companies, which did not recover after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Everything seems to be more like politicization than reality.

    Victor Shevaldin, managing director of the Ignalina nuclear power station, will propose the first block of the plant to be closed only in spring 2005, and keep the second block in operation not until 2010 as was demanded by the EU, but till 2012.

    It is good that people do not agree with everything ordered by the EU, but according to the signals coming from Brussels no arguments will help in the matter.

    Can the shutdown of the Ignalina nuke before appointed time be seen as a pro or con?

    Taking into consideration economic considerations it is a con for the region but closure of the atomic plant will cause no fundamental or critical changes in the Lithuanian economy.