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.
Ignalina, a NPP similar to Chernobyl, closed down in 2004 and 2009.- As described in various sources (1) (6) (7) (10), in Lithuania in 1978 construction had begun on two RBMK reactors (1,380 MWe each) for the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, 50 km north-east of Vilnius.. The light-water, graphite-moderated reactors were of similar design as those at Chernobyl. The nuclear power plant began operating in 1983. The first reactor was decommissioned in 2004 and the second one in 2009.
In the late 1980s, the birth of a Green Party, Žaliųjų partija, helped to stop the building of the third nuclear reactor at Ignalina. The independence movement of Lithuania, Sąjūdis, had criticized the nuclear power plant. In September 16-17, 1988 approximately 10,000 people formed a human chain around the Ignalina nuclear power plant demanding safety inspections by an international team of experts. After independence in 1990, anti-nuclear positions became less explicit. There was a Green wave t across Eastern and Central Europe after the fall of communism. In Lithuania, the Greens first got four seats, which they lost in the 1992 elections.
WISE had published reports in 1992 and 1994 explaining the technical defects and the risks from the Ignalina power plant (4) (9).
In 1994, Lithuania accepted US$36.8 million from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's Nuclear Safety Account to improve safety at the Ignalina site. Under the grant, both the reactors had to be closed within 15–20 years. As part of the EU accession process, Lithuania agreed to the early closure of its RBMK reactors: Ignalina unit 1 was shut down at the end of 2004 and unit 2 at the end of 2009. According to findings of the Western European Nuclear Regulators Association, the main risk of accident was associated with generic design flaws of the RBMK reactors and the absence of a confinement. This deficiency could not technically be eliminated nor could the plant be brought to a safety level comparable to that of western European reactors (8). To assist Lithuania with the decommissioning process, the European Commission together with 14 European governments set up the Ignalina International Decommissioning Support Fund (IIDSF) at the EBRD in 2001.The EU agreed to pay for decommissioning costs and some compensation. Such costs are growing and growing.
After the end of the Soviet Union (partly caused by the Chernobyl disaster) there were reviews of the state of some nuclear power stations. In 1992, at a G7 summit, it was decided that Ignalina in Lithuania, four units of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria, and Bohunice in Slovakia had to be closed as they presented a high level of risk. All these nuclear units closed down, the last to be shut down in December 2009 being the second unit of Ignalina.The closing of the nuclear power stations was negotiated as part of the countries' EU accession treaties. As this early closure was a financial burden for these countries, the European Union was to provide financial support.
The Radioactive Waste Management Agency of Lithuania, established in 2001, was responsible for disposal of all radioactive waste from Ignalina during operation and decommissioning. A site near the plant was identified for storage of low and intermediate-level waste.
Option for Visaginas new nuclear power plant defeated.- This was a Baltic regional project intended to provide electricity for Lithuania instead of in 2009 closed Ignalina NPP. There were three regional partners - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia involved in the project, in addition to GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. NPP jointly owned by Japanese company Hitachi and Japanese American company GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (20 percent shares), and state owned companies Lietuvos Energija (owned by the Republic of Lithuania) (38 percent), Latvenergo (owned by the Republic of Latvia) (20 percent) and Eesti Energia (owned by the Republic of Estonia) (22 percent). In 2012, Lithuanian citizens voted against building a new NPP in the country. The estimated price was 17 billion Litas (4,9 billion Euros). It was intended to replace Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, scheduled to be shut down in 2009. However, on 14 October 2012 an advisory referendum on constructing the new nuclear plant found 62.7% of the participating Lithuanian electorate against and 34.1% for. "Visaginas nuclear power plant would be built on Lithuanian land, with increased danger, therefore we must ask the opinion of the Lithuanian people," had said opposition Social Democrat Birute Vesaite while Lithuania's governing Conservatives had opposed the referendum plan, accusing the opposition of simply seeking political gains. By 2016 the instigator of the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant new proposal, former energy minister Arvydas Sekmokas, said the proposal was "dead".
Update on Ignalina.- By 27 February 2018 (5) it was reported that Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP) announced the removal of the last used fuel assembly from the reactor of unit 2. Some of the used fuel was removed from the reactor after its final closure in 2009, but the remainder was left pending the launch of an Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility (ISFSF). There is controversy on the final destination of this waste.
Opposition to NPP Bellona in Belarus.- By 2019, Lithuania has no plans for further nuclear power plants and indeed it has renewed its longstanding opposition to the nuclear power plant Russia is building in neighboring Belarus not far from Vilnius, asking Minsk to convert instead the nearly complete Bellona plant to a liquefied natural gas facility. (2). As reported by WISE in 2011, after two years of fruitless talks with its eastern neighbor, Lithuania had finally brought its complaint over Belarus’s building a nuclear power plant right on its doorstep to the authority that enforces the Espoo Convention (12) – an international agreement covering industrial projects that may potentially bring environmental harm across state borders. Both Lithuania and Belarus are Espoo signatories, but Belarus denies any violations and threatened a retaliatory complaint over Lithuania’s own new nuclear project (which was discarded by referendum in 2012) (3). In April 2017, Vilnius passed a law against buying energy from what its parliament termed “unsafe nuclear power plants in third countries,” and forbidding utilities from transferring energy from such plants through the country’s territory. These boycotts against buying nuclear power have been effective in shutting down other unpopular nuclear projects in the region .(11).