Lithuanian hope for nuclear extension dashed by EU

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

BRUSSELS, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Lithuania's hopes of being allowed to extend the life of its Ignalina nuclear power plant were dashed on Wednesday by the European Commission.

In its treaty on joining the European Union in 2004, Lithuania promised to shut by the end of 2009 the second reactor at the plant, which is similar to Ukraine's Chernobyl facility where the world's worst nuclear disaster struck in 1986.

'There is an agreement, a legal commitment, arising from the accession treaty,' Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference after talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas.

'We must never compromise on safety. The treaty has to be respected,' Barroso added when asked whether Ignalina could operate longer.

Kirkilas has argued that Ignalina's 1,300-megawatt second reactor underwent an upgrade and can operate safely, and that its closure would lead to an energy shortage in Lithuania.

Brussels experts say that to keep Ignalina open, all 27 EU members would have to agree to amend Lithuania's accession treaty. That is an unlikely prospect considering opposition to nuclear energy among some countries, such as Austria.

The amendment would probably also need ratification, a lengthy process few would like to undertake but which Kirkilas has said may not be necessary.

The prime minister wants to keep Ignalina open at least until 2012, the earliest Lithuania expects to have an electricity interconnection with the EU.

Barroso promised the EU's executive Commission would strongly support building such an interconnection, through Estonia and Poland.

Lithuania, along with Estonia, Latvia and Poland, plans to build a modern nuclear power plant with capacity of up to 3,400 megawatts, but it is expected to be ready only well after 2015.

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