Lithuanian government claims Visaginas back on

By bne IntelliNews April 1, 2014

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With minds focused by Russia's incursion into Ukraine, parties from across the political spectrum have finally agreed to support construction of a new nuclear power plant at Visaginas. The energy minister claimed on March 31 that there is now a "very good" chance that the facility will be built.

The leaders of Lithuania’s parliamentary parties stated support for Visaginas, as well as the country's planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal project, on March 28, in agreeing strategic guidelines for 2014-2020, reports The Lithuania Tribune. They agreed to implement the projects “as soon as possible,” repeating the recent mantra that dependence on gas and electricity imports from Russia is a threat to national security.

Pointing out the country's limited options for efficient power generation, Energy Minister Jaroslav Neverovic said on March 31 that he now sees a "very good" chance that the project - which has earned almost mythical status due to the ebb and flow of its fortunes - will now go forward. "We are very serious about our own electricity production projects, including the nuclear plant," he said on Lietuvos Ryto Television. "If agreements with our partners are reached on the cost-effective implementation of the project, particularly given the agreement signed by the parties on Saturday, I think that there are very good chances for implementing the project."

Political football

Plans for a new nuclear plant in Lithuania have become a political football in recent years. Many governments have hatched such plans in the face of fierce protest from the opposition. A change of government sees the previous scheme shut down, only for a new project to emerge. 

The €7bn or so construction of Visaginas as a pan-Baltic facility, alongside strategic investor Hitachi, was a star project of the previous centre-right coalition headed by Andrius Kubilius. However, the plan to replace the Soviet-era Ignalina - which was shut down in 2009 leaving the Baltics, cut off from European networks by history, to rely on Russian power imports, was constantly disrupted by bickering with Latvia and Estonia. 

The opposition made it a leading edge in the 2012 election campaign, even managing to get a non-binding referendum attached to the ballot after insisting to crisis-weary Lithuanians that the country could not afford to build the plant. On taking office in December the same year, the new government suspended the project. 

The current government, led by Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius, has failed to come up with a final decision on whether to go forwards with building new nuclear capacity. However, following the parliamentary agreement on March 28, Butkevicius said the project is being harmonized by Baltic officials. “We are working with the project very actively,” he said.

The project was developed with Japan’s Hitachi corporation and companies from Latvia and Estonia, but, did not secure support during a non-binding referendum in October of 2012.

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