Building and dismantling Ignalina nuclear power plant, Lithuania

A referendum in 2012 ended plans for a new nuclear power plant after two large reactors at Ignalina (similar to Chernobyl's) had been stopped in 2004 and 2009. There are now difficult issues regarding nuclear waste.


This is a story of twenty years of production of electricity in two reactors at Ignalina starting in the 1980s, followed by closure in 2004 and 2009, followed by a referendum against nuclear energy in 2012, and  a current dispute with Belarus regarding a nuclear power plant near the border.  The dismantling of the Ignalina power plant and the technical and financial issues of managing the nuclear waste loom very large at present and for the future.

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Basic Data
Name Building and dismantling Ignalina nuclear power plant, Lithuania
SiteIgnalina, Visaginas
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Nuclear
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Nuclear power plants
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsIn the northeast of the country, Lithuania hosted two largest Russian reactors of the RBMK type similar to four reactors of the infamous Chernobyl design. These Ignalina reactors on the Duksiai lake, in the municipality of Visaginas, were originally 1500 MWe units (1380 MWe net), but were later de-rated to 1300 MWe (1185 MWe net)b. Construction started in 1978 and they came on line at the end of 1983 (unit 1) and in 1987 (unit 2)c, with a 30-year design life, later shortened to 20 years only. Lithuania assumed ownership of them in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and independence. They were light-water, graphite-moderated types. Construction on a third reactor at Ignalina commenced in 1985 but was suspended after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, and the unit was later demolished.Originally the Iganlina plant was designed to provide power not only for Lithuania but also for neighbouring Latvia, Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. In 1989, 42% of the power was exported, but this fell through the 1990s.

Already in 1992, investigators from Sweden, including experts from SKI and the Institute for the Protection to Radioactivity, examined nuclear power stations in Russia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. They were, according to an article in Izvestia, especially alarmed by the reactors at the Ignalina and Sosnovy Bor stations. (4)

According to World Nuclear Power, in October 2011 the government formally notified the European Commission of plans for the new nuclear power plant at Visaginas to be built in collaboration with Estonia, Latvia and Poland. In March 2012 the prime ministers of Estonia and Latvia reiterated their support for the project, a concession agreement with Hitachi was initialed and then in May signed, providing the contractual framework for the project and giving Hitachi a 20% stake in it. In May 2012 the Lithuanian parliament approved the project and the concession agreement. Those in favour of nuclear power argued that without the new power plant at Visaginas, both Lithuania and its Baltic neighbours to the north would remain largely dependent on Russia for electricity. This plan was defeated through a referendum in 2012.

Costs of building and costs of decommissioning Ignalina.- Some sources (6) assert that the cost of building Ignalina in 1970-1983 amounted to €3.5 billion. The total estimated cost of the Ignalina decommissioning project is over €2.5bn, with the EU pledging €1.4bn towards these costs, funded largely through the Ignalina International Decommissioning Support Fund (IIDSF) administered by the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD) and two other funds administered by EBRD. (6) About 95% of the required decommissioning funds are being provided by the EU member states. The other 5% comes from Lithuanian state’s own energy agency. Indeed, decommissioning to bring the site to brownfield condition might cost €5-6 billion (6). "There are dangers involved in decommissioning the world’s first nuclear power plant with uranium-graphite reactors without having the proper programmes in place" (6).

There are lessons from Ignalina for the European and U.S. decommissioning activity set to surge in the coming years (7). J. Klasen, ENBW’s Director Nuclear Decommissioning Services at German operator EnBW Kernkraft, said in May 2016 that the number of reactors in decommissioning is expected to rise from 76 in 2015 to around 110 in 2020. In the U.S., 18 nuclear power plants are currently being decommissioned and this number will soon increase. According to Dmitrij Ekaternichev, Head of INPP Project Management Service, lessons from the Ignalina project will be particularly important for future RBMK decommissioning projects in Russia and Ukraine. “Ignalina is a pilot project for RBMK type reactors and no referenced dismantling designs are available to date... There was no prior decommissioning experience especially in the frame of an Immediate Dismantling Strategy” (7).
Project Area (in hectares)200
Level of Investment (in USD)3,500,000,000 (building) + 2,500,000,000 (decommisioning)
Potential Affected Population10,000
Start Date1992
Company Names or State EnterprisesHitachi from Japan
Energiewerke Nord (ENW) from Germany - Decommissioning of nuclear reactors, management of nuclear waste
Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant from Lithuania
EnBW Kernkraft from Germany
Relevant government actorsRadioactive Waste Management Agency, Lithuania

Government of Lithuania.

European Union (dismantling and waste management).
International and Financial InstitutionsEspoo convention
European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersWISE, World Information Service on Energy.

Green Party of Lithuania, Žaliųjų partija.

Sąjūdis (citizens movement and political party for Lithuanian independence, late 1980s).
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local government/political parties
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Boycotts of companies-products
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Other Environmental impacts
OtherPotential nuclear radiation
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Other socio-economic impacts, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
OtherThe investment in this large nuclear power plant was lost after 20 years of normal functioning, because the risks of a Chernobyl-type accident led to its closure. There is now a very large investment required (at least 2.6 billion USD) for decommissioning the plant and securing the nuclear waste.
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Development of Alternatives"As the first project to begin Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) of RBMK reactors, the Ignalina plant project will provide a wealth of learnings which can be applied to the upcoming wave of decommissioning projects expected in Europe and the U.S." (7)
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The risky nuclear power plant built in the 1980s (of a type similar to Chernobyl) was stopped between 2004 and 2009. Plans for a new power plant were defeated by referendum in 2012. Now in 2019 decommissioning and control of the nuclear waste (to the extent possible) loom large. One wonders whether the economic benefits of the Ignalina NPP were greater than the costs (simply in money terms). In a related conflict, Lithuania and Poland are opposing the Bellona nuclear plant in Ostrovets in neighbouring Belarus. (2) (11) (12).
Sources and Materials


(4) Condition of Ignalina N-plant in Lithuania. WISE. Nuclear Monitor Issue: #367, 21/02/1992
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(1) Nuclear Power Information. Nuclear Power in Lithuania(Updated May 2017).
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(5) World Nuclear News, 27 Febr. 2018
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(6) Nuclear Engineering News. Dismantling Ignalina. 29 November 2018. Vladimir N. Kuznetsov speaks to NEI about decommissioning plans for Ignalina.
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(9) WISE. Ignalina: Accident and liability. Nuclear Monitor Issue: #406

11/02/1994. Lithuania has quite a good chance to reach the first place on the world wide ranking list for nuclear dangers. Until now the nuclear power plant (NPP) Kozloduy in Bulgaria was regarded as the worst but in October 1993 Swedish experts discovered several hundred of fissures in the pipe system of the NPP Ignalina and - particularly alarming - in the fuel rod chambers of the reactor.
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(10) Wikipedia. Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant.
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(12) WISE. Belarusian NPP plan fails to convince at public hearing in Kyiv. Nuclear Monitor Issue: #7076045. 29/4/2010. Espoo Convention. After a public hearing in Vilnius on March 2, concerning the planned construction of the Belarusian NPP, several environmental initiatives – the Belarusian Green Party, the Russian group Ecodefense!, a movement called “Scientists for a Nuclear-Free Belarus,” and the non-governmental organisation Ecodom – prepared and distributed a document called “Critical notes on the ‘Statement on Potential Environmental Impact of the Belarusian NPP.’ Source: Eco-club, Ukraine.
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Media Links

(2) Charles Digges, 4 March 2019. Lithuania renews opposition to Russian-built nuclear plant in Belarus.
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(3) WISE Nuclear Monitor Issue: #733616723/09/2011
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(7) Nuclear Energy Insider. Lithuania RBMK plant clean-up cost forecast at 1.3bn euros per reactor. May 17, 2017
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(8)European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Ignalina International Decommissioning Support Fund
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IAEA. Video. 20 May 2016. Lithuania’s Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant is being decommissioned, the world’s first such project involving RBMK reactors. As part of the country’s accession talks with the European Union, Lithuania agreed to the early shutdown of the two reactors, which were closed in 2004 and 2009, respectively. The European Commission has provided significant financial assistance to Ignalina NPP decommissioning, complemented by Lithuanian national co-financing.
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(11) Charles Digges. 9 August 2017. Poland speaks out harshly against Belarusian nuclear plant. Poland has lent its voice to a growing chorus of countries that won’t buy power from the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant that Moscow is building in Ostrovets because it considers the project to be unsafe, RIA Novosti reported.
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Other Documents
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[click to view] The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant is a closed two-unit RBMK-1500MW nuclear power station in Visaginas municipality, Lithuania. It was named after the nearby city of Ignalina.
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Other CommentsDue to its similarity to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant served as a filming location for the HBO mini-series Chernobyl (2019).
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Last update03/06/2019