Lithuania wants EU aid or will keep nuclear plant

Saturday, October 11, 2008

VILNIUS, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Lithuania may have to defy the European Union and keep its Ignalina nuclear power plant open beyond 2009 if the EU cannot help it assure energy supplies, the prime minister and economy minister said on Thursday.

Lithuania agreed under its EU entry treaty to close Ignalina, which has the same kind of reactors as at Chernobyl in Ukraine, where the world's worst nuclear disaster happened in 1986.

The government, accused by critics of doing little to find alternative energy supplies, has begun to fear shortages.

"If no plan is adopted (to help Lithuania), then we would have to think what to do about an Ignalina extension," Economy Minister Vytas Navickas told Reuters.

"We want the European Commission to come up with a plan how to assure energy supplies to Lithuania after 2009, and this plan to be approved at the EU summit in December."

Navickas, to attend a meeting of EU energy ministers on Friday, said Lithuania already had a draft of a plan and hoped to strike a deal, which had to be backed by real money.

He declined to say how much Lithuania wanted from the EU, but Baltic news agency BNS quoted him as saying the sum could be up to 1 billion euros ($1.37 billion), otherwise Ignalina could be open to 2012.

The Baltic state also wanted much higher carbon dioxide emissions allowances if it closes the plant, BNS quoted Navickas as saying. Fossil fuel alternatives to nuclear power produce more of the greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that are blamed for climate change.

He said Lithuania would not approve Brussels' proposed climate change package, according to the agency.

Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas also said during an Internet discussion that a plan was in the works with the EU executive, the European Commission, to ensure Lithuania was not left alone after 2009.

"I am not sure what the decision will be, a modification of the shutdown, which, I think, is the most realistic," he said.

He said German Chancellor Angela Merkela had supported delaying the closure of the plant if no power links were built to Sweden and Poland -- schemes aimed at ending Lithuania's reliance on power from other former Soviet states.

"There is a joint action plan being worked out with the European Commission, and if there will be no clear answers how Lithuania will be assisted, whether it will be more CO2 allowances or something else, then Lithuania would be left with no choice," Kirkilas said. He had been asked what Navickas meant by saying Lithuania might extend Ignalina until 2012.

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