Visaginas nuclear project shelved says Lithuanian official

By bne IntelliNews January 20, 2016

The Visaginas nuclear power plant project has been shelved due to a weak power market, a Lithuanian official announced on January 20.

Lithuania has been trying over the last couple of years to revive the plan to build a pan-Baltic plant to replace the decommissioned Soviet-era installation Ignalina. Like all other pan-Baltic projects, however, it has been plagued by poor cooperation.

The delay may also be linked to the Lithuanian election scheduled for October. It has become something of a tradition for new governments in Vilnius to scrap the nuclear projects of their predecessors, only to come up with a similar scheme months after taking office. The current Social Democrat administration even managed to get a referendum on the €7bn project promoted by previous centre-right coalition headed by Andrius Kubilius attached to the 2012 election ballot.

That project was also plagued by bickering with Latvia and Estonia. None of the Baltic states arebig enough to make a nuclear plant commercially viable alone, but the trio have struggled to agree on a project, despite growing concern over their reliance on Russian power imports, and isolation from EU grids.

Lithuanian Energy Minister Rokas Masiunius claims, however, that it is market conditions and infrastructure issues that led him to announce the shelving of the project for an estimated 6-12 months.

"We've halted the Visaginas plant project for some time because the market situation is not that favourable," he said, according to The Baltic Course. "[We are also waiting] for our electricity interconnections in Lithuania with Poland and Sweden to start working normally and prices on the electricity market to fall into place and become more stable."

However, Masiunis also reportedly hints that Estonia is not as interested in participating as Lithuania. Vilnius has sent Tallinn the cost and feasibility analysis of the power plant but is waiting for a response.

The delay could put the Baltic states in a difficult position. They face an expected surge in electricity demand, which is forecast to reach 29bn-33bn kWh/year, by 2020. Without a large new power plant, no more than two thirds of demand will be covered by current capacity in the region, according to the World Nuclear Association.

In efforts to address the issue individually, the Baltic states have worked out some solutions, such as Lithuania’s grid connections to Poland and Sweden. However, the Baltic trio is also rolling out a campaign to block the EU’s imports of electricity from planned nuclear power plants in Russia’s Kaliningrad region and in Belarus.

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