Lithuanian voters reject atomic power plan

PTI Vilnius | Updated on November 17, 2017 Published on October 15, 2012

Lithuanian voters have rejected plans to build a new plant to replace the Baltic state’s lone nuclear power station, a Soviet-era facility shut down under the terms of its EU entry, results showed.

Almost 62 per cent of voters, yesterday cast “No” ballots in a referendum, while close to 35 per cent backed the plan, partial figures from the national elections commission showed.

Turnout was over 50 per cent, the level required for the plebiscite to be valid.

The referendum result does not bind the government legally to act.

But because it was held in tandem with a general election topped by left-wing parties who have expressed concern about the project, it throws new doubt on an already-sluggish project.

Anti-nuclear campaigners may well end up disappointed, however.

“We are for nuclear power,” said Algirdas Butkevicius, leader of the centre-left Social Democrats, who came second in the polls to the left-wing populist Labour party with whom they are expected to form a coalition government.

He said the problem was that current plans had been rushed through and made little technical or commercial sense, requiring a rethink.

Despite rising global anti-nuclear sentiments following the 2011 tsunami disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant, Lithuania’s centre-right government had pushed ahead with plans to build a new facility along with neighbours Latvia and Estonia.

Japan’s Hitachi was tapped to construct the new plant in northeast Lithuania — expected to generate 1,350 megawatts from 2020-2022, though final investment decisions were not expected until 2015.

The previous plant, of the same type as the one that exploded in Chernobyl in 1986, was built when Lithuania was still part of the Soviet Union.

Its eventual closure was a condition for Lithuania’s 2004 admission to the European Union. Vilnius failed to convince Brussels to allow it to shift the December 31, 2009 cut-off.

Since the old plant provided most of Lithuania’s power, the nation of three million is now even more dependent on energy supplies from Russia, with which it has had rocky relations since independence two decades ago.

Lithuania’s left-wingers had promised a sweeping review of the country’s energy policy if they won power.

They have vowed to “reset” ties with Moscow, as tensions spiked over alleged market abuses by Russian energy giant Gazprom, Lithuania’s sole gas supplier.

Vilnius has sparked a major probe by EU competition authorities and filed a damages claim for almost $ 1.9 billion with international arbitrators.

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Published on October 15, 2012
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