Lithuanian Parl't Approves Nuclear Co.

Friday, February 1, 2008

(AP) VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania's parliament on Friday narrowly approved the creation of a state-controlled company to lead a nuclear power plant project aimed at easing regional dependence on Russian energy and replacing an aging Soviet-era reactor.

The new company, to be called Lithuanian Electricity Organization AB, would be 61.7 percent government-owned, with the rest held privately. It would be authorized to negotiate with governments and private companies in Poland, Latvia and Estonia on a proposed joint nuclear power project. The bill still requires the approval of Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, who has veto powers.

The resolution passed 63-11, with five abstentions. The remaining lawmakers in the 141-seat legislature boycotted the ballot in protest, after a heated and contentious debate, or were absent from the session. Under Lithuanian law, at least 71 lawmakers must participate for the passage of a resolution to be valid, so the 74 votes were enough.

"The construction of the new plant could be started after two or three years and after we have the permission of the International Atomic Energy Agency," said Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas.

Opponents of the project in the parliament, the Seimas, objected to the extent and terms of private investors' stake in the company.

Lithuania, which joined the European Union in 2004, has agreed with Brussels to close the Ignalina nuclear plant next year. The plant is the only nuclear facility in the Baltic countries, and provides some 80 percent of Lithuania's electricity and exports power, particularly to Latvia and Belarus.

Ignalina is similar in design to the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine that suffered the world's worst civilian nuclear accident in 1986.

Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland all fear a growing reliance on Russian natural gas after the Ignalina unit closes and have expressed a willingness to finance a new plant because Russia has increasingly used its position in energy supplies to put political pressure on other nations.

Kirkilas, the prime minister, said he expects tough negotiations with the other countries, especially Poland, which has pressed for a larger share of the project and of its output.

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