Lithuania nuclear chief sees delay to new plant

Friday, November 30, 2007

VISAGINAS, Lithuania, Nov 29 (Reuters) - A planned new Lithuanian nuclear plant faces a delay of at least two years to 2017, the head of the country's current sole atomic power facility said on Thursday. Viktor Shevaldin, head of the Ignalina nuclear plant, due to be shut down at the end of 2009 under Lithuania's European Union entry terms, said several uncertainties remained about the planning and eventual construction of a new plant.

"They have wasted two years in talking," said Shevaldin, one of Lithuania's top nuclear experts, referring to negotiations by Lithuania and neighbouring countries on building the plant.

"This adds up and it makes 2017," he told Reuters in an interview at the Ignalina plant in eastern Lithuania. The government's official target date is 2015.

It aims to build a replacement for Ignalina in a joint project with Latvia, Estonia and Poland, which all want to decrease their energy dependency on Russia.

But talks have bogged down as Poland has demanded a third of the new plant's planned capacity of 3,200 megawatts. In Lithuania, delays have arisen in forming a planned new merged powercompany to run the construction project.

Shevaldin said any concrete timetable was in doubt until the company that will build the plant has been established. Shevaldin, who has worked at Ignalina since 1982 and has been its director since 1991, has had to oversee the closure of one of its two reactors.
The second reactor must close at the end of 2009.

He said there remained several unsolved questions such as the capacity of the new plant and how many reactors are going to be built. It could also be hard to find suppliers of reactors given the fast expansion of nuclear capacity around the world.

"The faster you want the reactors built, the more expensive it will be," he said. He also noted, however, that costs could be cut by up to 25 percent if the new plant was located next to the current one, which already has the necessary infrastructure.
The Lithuanian government estimates the cost of the new plant at about 6.4 billion euros ($9.48 billion).
Shevaldin said the government had to ensure Lithuania was supplied with long-term energy resources for the years after 2010 and before the new plant was built. This would probably mean more gas and electricity from Russia.

"The best thing would be to not close the plant in 2009, but extend it to 2013," he added. Lithuania has said it is considering asking the European Commission to approve an extension to Ignalina's life, but European Energy CommssionerAndris Piebalgs has said there is little chance of this happening.

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