Lithuania hits off switch on nuclear plant
Closing Chernobyl-style facility a condition of EU membership
Lithuania will tonight shut down its single Soviet-era nuclear power plant - a facility which supplies up to 80 per cent of the country's electricity but must go as a condition of the country's membership of the European Union.
According to the BBC, the Ignalina plant in Visaginas opened 26 years ago, and critics of the closure say it's still good for another 10 to 15 years with a "minute" risk of an accident.
The EU is adamant, though, and is providing €820m to cover some of the decommissioning costs.
For Lithuania, the shut-down will mean higher electricity prices and dependency on Russia for much of its energy needs. ®
View from Lithuania
When the negotiations with EU were done, oil prices were very different, and emotions from Chernobyl were still hot. But nuclear bomb can explode also with even bigger consequences, if wrong buttons are pressed, yet we have a lot of them on our lands. And I invite those who think that modern Linux based plant control computers are more reliable than 25 years old military-grade control equipment - think again.
Plant safety was improved by the best European experts since then. Lot of control, security systems added. Design life can allow for additional safe 15 years. What Lithuania asked from EU is to extend the electricity generation from this plan UNTIL new plant is started, OR, until electricity links are buit with western europe (Sweden and / or Poland). Everybody can understand how much of political interactions happen in projects like these, so without military type of orders "DO IT NOW" things go slowly. Before such orders were comming from Moscow, but now the Brussels cannot issue them, we have a democracies around..... Try to negotiate in one year or even in five years with all Poland land-lords so that they allow huge high voltage line over their lands from Lithuania to Germany, for example. You will get such a "fast negotiation price" that it will be cheapier to buy electricity from Russia even for 1EUR/kWh. Without proper political help things are not moving fast, and that is the case.
Even worse, Lithuania was hardly hit by economic recession, with GDP down more than 15%, there are problems to pay pensions to old people and provide first necessity health care services, definitelly no any chance to pay for new reactors. And in this environment electricity prices now go up substantially from 1st of January.
Ignalina was producing electricity for 1.88 euro cents per kWh, pumping more than 750 megawats of green zero CO2 electricity into the Baltic grid. Before first reactor was stopped five years ago, this plant was producing about 1500 megawats.
Lithuania has electricity lines only to east (mainly Russia). Gas lines also only from Russia. Oil pipeline was only to Russia, but it is now closed from Russia side because Lithuania sold oil plant to Poland company (to have better EU integration) and not to Lukoil.
So who is the practical winner? Only Russia. For many years to come.
What I see now outside the windows are the huge clouds of smoke going out of termal plants chimneys. They burn expensive Russian gas and produce expensive electricity. These chimneys were idle for many years before.
I do not justify why plant was not extended on condition until power links are built to EU power network and some french Areva will build new "EU safe" reactor? Are majority of EU people really against that? I believe there are not so many places in EU where technical environment (many trained nuclear specialists) and where people minds are positive about nuclear reactors working nearby. They give the jobs to thousands, they give cheap electricity and they produce no clouds of CO2.
This is an example where bureucracy takes over the economic logic. Its just a small Lithuania, what the difference. Most important for EU is not to create the precedent of not following written obligations against EU, because, in the future for example, Turkey may also sign everything and then do not follow when being in EU. In EU comission view, published on their site, some countries approved them by referendums, so it is impossible now to change any conditions and extend the closing date. Just interesting for me, how many EU voters know they voted for the plant closure as part of package accepting LIthuania into EU.
Despite the dissappointment regarding Ignalina plant, Lithuanian people remain in big support for the participation in EU. There is not enough political management experience locally, this is also one of the many reasons, besides the cost, that country not managed to negotiate with neighbours to build power lines via their land. So, sometimes its better for this country that decisions are taken by clever (more experienced) people in Brussels, compared to not so wise local decisions. These people in Brussels are not so bad, and it seems they want the best even for Lithuania :) just sometimes they value old signed papers more than fresh reality, but that is part of democracy most of us so wanted after being free from Soviet Union... so we will somehow squeeze again our family budgets and pay more for that privilege to be in democracy, via much higer prices per kWh. The question remains was this new energy tax to Russia really necessary TODAY.
I hope EU somehow will increase their efforts on political level to help with negotiations required to faster put power lines to Sweden. Nordic market has proper electricity prices, Sweden and Finland are the countries with professional management of electricity matters, and one gigawatt will not change situation very much for them, but will solve this country power problems.
Meanwhile, this country politics must be carefull not to say any negative opinion about our big neighbour whatever they do, otherwise we can be left in the cold and without electricity if Russians will cut gas supply. So nobody in EU must be angry that we will try to be the friends with Mr. Lukashenka in Belarus, and be good neighbours with Russia also, despite what they will do. Now its -17C outside, and we lost the 750 megawats power station, the last one without CO2 impact, we will not have the money soon (if ever) to build the new one, and the only big wires and pipes to buy energy for today go to Russia via Belarus.
Happy New Year!
They bang on about carbon footprint then demand the closure of a nuclear power station that has another 15 years of life left in it and generates 80% of the countrys electricty just because it has the same design as Chernobyl! So now Lithuania will be yet another EU country highly dependent on Russia for energy.
Do these morons in Brussels have a working braincell between the lot of them?
Regarding present-day RBMK sites.
In all fairness, the RBMK designs were not a very good idea. Graphite-moderated, light-water-cooled reactors tend to have positive void coefficients*, and that's not a good thing. However, after 1986, the surviving RBMK plants (like Ignalina) got a huge safety overhaul. The control rods were redesigned, emergency systems that did things like dump boric acid into the coolant in the event of danger were introduced, and the plants were totally decked out with all manner of sensors. Check out englishrussia.com's page on the Smolensk NPP if you want to see just how pervasive that safety overhaul was.
Even before the Chernobyl incident, the operators knew about the risks inherent in the design, and had procedures in place to avoid such problems. They knew that the reactors became particularly unstable at low power levels due to xenon poisoning, and they knew that paying attention to the wellbeing of the coolant circuits was vital. The experiment at the Chernobyl plant which caused the No. 4 reactor to go pop was conducted hastily and recklessly--the power output fell too far, and the experiment carried on in spite of rather alarming readings from the steam drums. A reactor whose output was never supposed to fall below 200MWt** except in shutdown conditions was throttled down to about 20MWt, then all the control rods were fully retracted. Doing that in an RBMK that is suffering from xenon poisoning and whose coolant circuit is being messed with is an exceedingly bad idea (and this was not unknown at the time; merely underestimated).
In the long run, the RBMK sites need to be shut down, but not before their work is done. Lithuania is in no position to build new plants to replace Ignalina right now. EU membership for them means higher prices and a correspondingly lower standard of living--but, hey, that's what the greenies are after, right?
*A positive void coefficient means that formations of steam voids in the coolant circuits encourage reactivity. By comparision, reactors which exhibit negative void coefficients, such as the CANDU design, slow down when too many steam voids form. Edward Teller warned the western world a long time ago that the graphite-moderated light-water-cooled design might have this problem, and discouraged its use in the United States and company. The USSR, however, liked the design because it was inexpensive to build, was easy to refuel online (though western designs can do that too), and was good for producing weapon-grade concentrations of certain radionuclides. You see this throughout the USSR's engineering: They can't afford the same fancy industrial processes that the US uses to do something (building nuclear reactors, building heavy-lift rockets for moon missions, manufacturing nerve gas), so they find a cheaper simpler way to do it--often at the expense of safety.
**That's megawatts thermal.