The Baltic Course  

New nuclear power station in Lithuania:  dreams and realities

By Inna Negoda, Visaginas

Closing Ignalina nuclear power station (INPS) whose first power unit should be closed in 2005, and the second – in 2009, makes supporters of atomic energy in Lithuania to seek both political possibilities and technical solutions

Recent discussions concerning installation of radically new reactors’ type using existing INPS facilities and infrastructure have been treating the whole issue as already solved problem. Moreover, even the terms of the idea implementation have been mentioned, i.e. from 2, 5 till 5 years. But how real are these so close nuclear future’s perspectives?

Frenchmen are ready to strike while the iron is hot

The talks about the perspective of a new nuclear power plant construction in the next 5 years were initiated during the spring 2003, when France had shown interest in the possible project. During Lithuanian’s President Rolandas Paksas visit to Paris on May 14th, 2003 French President Jacques Chirac promised assistance in implementation of a new reactor. Already about a week after two presidents meeting, following J. Chirac assignment, the chairwoman of Areva group board of directors Anne Loverzhon arrived in Vilnius to discuss with the Lithuanian government the issues of cooperation in the field of atomic energy.

Photo: BNS/ Lithuania

Anne Loverzhon (centre), Rolandas Paksas and Kazimira Prunskiene.

During the visit A. Loverzhon announced that in case Lithuania decided to build a new atomic reactor, Areva group would do it faster than in 5 years, i.e. “from the first brick to the reactor’s start”.

It should be mentioned that to the meeting with the Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, Mrs. A. Loverzhon has brought already prepared “the letter of intent” concerning future cooperation in atomic energy field. However, Lithuanian President postponed its further progress with reference to the necessity of thorough elaboration of documents. The board of directors` chairwoman, departing from Vilnius at 1 PM on a private jet, already at 4 pm reported to French President the results of her visit. 

During A. Loverzhon’s discussions in Lithuania she also declared, than it would be completely realistic to make an agreement with the European Union on prolongation of the terms of INPS’ 2nd block exploitation, if Lithuania, having been started the new nuclear power reactor construction would not have finished it up to the deadline in 2009. Interesting to mention that until Mrs. A. Loverzhon visit nobody officially declared about the possibility of prolongation INPS’ working terms; Lithuanian agreement with the EU seemed to be above any amendments.

Chances to use INPS infrastructure

Working group was formed in the spring 2003 to find out possibilities to prolong nuclear energy use in Lithuania under supervision of Technological University of Kaunas’ professor, chairman of Lithuanian Atomic Energy Association, Mr. Jonas Gilis (commonly known as Gilis group).

In July INPS representative has been incorporated into the group, chief project development specialist Mr. Vitalij Jarin, who presented his colleagues with technical and economical arguments of his idea to prolong the terms of INPS exploitation. 

V. Jarin proposed to add to each existing turbo generators one reactor BWR-90-type of 800 megawatts capacity, produced by Swedish company ABB Atom. That is, instead of one reactor at each of two INPS blocks, two reactors, i.e four in total. Swedish reactors, according to the author’s idea to modernize INPS, are more compatible with the existing equipment.

Thus, Jarin concluded, only the replacement of reactors would take place, all other infrastructure components of the station would be fully used, e.g. steam turbines, which are still long to run until their expiry date. According to Jarin, this kind of modernization could be implemented during 2,5 years.

However, many specialists, including Areva representatives, do not think they can use existing INPS turbo generators; companies that produce nuclear reactors, would not risk giving guarantees for nuclear energy plant exploitation with the non-original turbines.

The suggestion to choose Swedish reactors was also put under strong doubts, e.g. Areva representatives informed specialists that French “super holding” was in the possession of much more sophisticated construction models, than that if the Swedish side had.

All that produced its result, i.e. Areva experts together with INPS specialists joined Gilis working group, where now they together investigate the possibilities to use INPS infrastructure.

Canadian nuclear technologies company AECL (Atomic Energy of Canada) presented in Vilnius in November 2003 atomic reactors Candu-type project descriptions. One of the company’s latest products has been the ACR reactor with the capacity of 730 megawatts, which could be ready-built within 4 years.

Russian projects

Numerous proposals might create an illusion that it is inevitable to construct quickly a new nuclear station in Lithuania. However it’s far from the truth, e.g. a lot of political, technical and other issues have to be solved.

Stumbling blocks

During her visit in Vilnius Anne Loverzhon acknowledged that Areva group super holding was capable to find investors for a new nuclear plant construction. Though Lithuania was to fulfill the following obligations:

* Seim (Parliament) and central government should adopt a decision that Lithuania remains the state producing nuclear energy;

* Lithuania shall decide how much energy it has to produce at a nuclear plant;

* Based on existing demand, to choose the reactor’s capacity and its type, and to describe a possible scenario of its construction, i.e. either entirely new nuclear plant or an old one with the use of the existing plant’s elements. 

Is Lithuanian Seim able to undertake a political decision of a new nuclear station construction in the near future?

Theoretically, the answer is yes. It is planned, that after Gilis working group transitional report is submitted, (somewhere at the end of 2003, beginning of 2004), Seim has to review it and make a decision. It is hard to forecast what the decision will be like.

Parliamentarian commission on INPS regional problems’ chairwoman Kazimira Prunskiene constantly declared the necessity to take a quick decision on the new nuclear power construction, although she could not assemble the majority votes. Thus, the member of the same parliamentarian commission Papovas Piatras vas added that “the decision to build a new nuclear station at present, when Lithuania has not yet joined the EU, would be politically wrong”.

In spite of the fact that about 70% of Lithuanian population supported safe atomic energy development in the country, there are supporters of the position of director of Lithuanian Institute of Energy, academician J. Vilemas (he is professor’s Gilis opponent and Prime Minister A. Brazauskas’ close friend) both in Seim and in the government. Academician thinks that it will be possible to think of a new nuclear plant construction only in 10 years’ time as after INPS closing in 2009 there will be enough electric energy in Lithuania, produced by thermal power stations.

And still, taking into consideration the interest that Latvia and Estonia is showing about new INPS, and high energy transmission line construction between Lithuania and Poland, supported by EU, as well as taking into consideration international trends in atomic energy development, we may hope that politicians shall not miss the opportunity to adopt a right decision.

Anne Loverzhon (43) – chairwoman of Areva group’s board of directors, previously Cogema company president – the world’s biggest company in the field of nuclear fuel production and processing. While holding latter post, she entered American magazines’ Fortune rating of the world’s 50 most influential business women; she was the second in 2001.

In 2003 The Wall Street Journal Europe published the list of 25 most successful women-directors in the European business. In this list Anne Loverzhon was included as the chairwoman of Areva board of directors.

To be or not to be?

Viktor Shevaldin, INPS general talks to BC’s editor about the INPS perspectives, new nuclear station construction and possibilities to utilize the re-built INPS existing infrastructure:

Viktor Nikolayevich, do you think it is possible to utilize the existing turbines in the new nuclear power station construction?

Theoretically it is possible, but practically this decision is very hard to implement, I would say, it is quite unrealistic outcome. Although this option is in economic sense the cheapest. Mind you, we are not talking here about some tubes’ adjustment to the reactor and cutting some of them off; we are talking about a new project, entire new work complex... Frankly speaking, I think it won’t do. But in order not to sound groundless, I’d suggest, let the Gilis group finish its work and present its conclusions.

What would be possible to use out of old INPS infrastructure for a new nuclear station construction?

First, the existing site, water reservoir, electricity lines, ODS (open energy distribution systems), diesel-generating engine stations (12 in total), block transformers – all that could be used for another more than 60 years. Then, equipment for liquid radioactive waste processing, and clearinghouse for nuclear fuel wastes.

In total, there could be mentioned about ten engineering units which in financial sense could provide for about 20- 25% to the new station’s cost. Plus too, the city around the station and its personnel. It is quite clear that our existing site is an obvious advantage in comparison to any new one. Western countries also build their new power blocks in places of closed ones.

What is your attitude regarding a statement that reactors’ replacement can be implemented by our own staff, without inviting foreign specialists?

Certainly the project can not be implemented by our own people, i.e. there are no institutions in Lithuania having a corresponding license to perform such kind of work project. We would need also specialists that would install foreign equipment. For example, if it’s going to be a French reactor and Ukrainian turbine, we would need to establish a consortium of companies. Our own resources are only our labor force.

Who, in your opinion, could be considered as potential investors?

It is still premature to speak about investors. Neither in energy development strategy, nor in the new Lithuania’s industrial development scheme there is any plan to construct nuclear or thermal power stations.

Till 2009 present INPS will supply the electric energy. Now under active modernization is Electrenaiskaja power station, from 2005 one of its generators will provide electricity. And after 2010 this station will be fully operational. These issues are, in fact, included into national strategy. Along the construction of electrical power line to Poland.

But as long as an adopted decision on a new electric power station does not exist, it is hard to talk about potential investors. Certainly, our situation is closely followed by European and American companies.