Back in February 2007, I noted that there was a lot of interest among businesses that saw an opportunity to make some money by replacing the power output from the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania. That plant currently supplies 70% of the electricity consumed in Lithuania. It is a valuable anchor for the Soviet era electrical power grid that supplies Lithuania and its neighbors, but the plant has been scheduled for an early termination as part of the 2004 agreement that the little country made when it joined the European Union.
Despite the efforts of many local residents and businesses who are going to see their power bills eventually double once the plant is no longer contributing to the local power supply, the momentum for the planned shutdown never really abated. On December 31, 2009, the plant will stop producing electricity and turn from a contributing part of the energy infrastructure into a pure cost that generates nothing of any salable value. Energy intensive industries will suffer and perhaps move away. The planned shutdown is coming during the middle of one of the worst recessions in recent history; the area may never recover lost opportunities as more and more of the local income must be devoted to purchasing fuel and electricity from the country’s former rulers in Russia.
Here is an excerpt from an article titled Estonia faces toughest challenge to cut emissions that illustrates some of the effects of the ill timed shutdown. (In my opinion, any shutdown of a nuclear plant before it reaches the end of its design life is ill-timed, especially in a situation where the replacement power source has not even begun construction.)
Lithuania is currently well ahead of the EU restrictions, but how the next decade will look is uncertain. Znutienė said that the country of nearly 4 million has reduced emissions to 50 percent of what they were in 1990, and will meet the strict Kyoto targets that were set earlier this decade.
But Lithuania is looking at a number of problematic situations in the next ten years. The most prominent is the closing of the Ignalina nuclear power plant, which produces almost 70 percent of the nation’s energy. In 2004, as a precondition for joining the EU, Lithuania agreed to shut down the plant because other EU members were worried about its similarities to the Chernobyl reactor that melted down in the late 1980s. No one had foreseen that its closure would coincide with Lithuania’s worst economic downturn ever, and this will force the country to import electricity and fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, rather than try to develop more expensive, sustainable sources.
“We worry a lot about the closing of the nuclear energy plant,” Znutienė said.
Kęstutis Navickas, project manager for the Baltic Environmental Forum, an environmental group, said that he expects a rise in emissions, and is “not sure if it will be for a short time.” But those in the government were more optimistic about the country’s environmental impact over the next ten years.
I do not understand the basis for the optimism; other than the fact that something has got to improve if you look far enough into the future. I am sure that the enterprises who sell the replacement electricity and fossil fuels will benefit by the closure as will the vendors and construction contractors that will be engaged in building any replacement power facilities. However, the best available course of action would be for the European Union to back off on its demand that the plant be shut down. It has been significantly modified and upgraded, its workers are well trained and have demonstrated a high degree of reliability and dedication. It is not another “Chernobyl” and it should not be shut down in order to benefit a small number of greedy suppliers.
Besides, how completely hypocritical is it for the European Union to demand emissions reductions from its member countries at the same time that it is forcing an emissions free facility to be shutdown with its output to be replaced by burning fossil fuels?