Discussing nuclear energy

By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - The tragedy of Japan, including the nuclear accident in Fukushima, got an immediate response from Lithuanian hearts. Over 200,000 litas (58,000 euros) in donations, mostly via calls to charity phone numbers, were collected by ordinary Lithuanians during the first five days after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, and the charity action continues. That sum from the first five days is almost equal to the Lithuanian government’s help in blankets and sleeping-bags for Japan.

After the events in Fukushima, according to polls, the Lithuanian population’s support for a new nuclear plant construction near the Lithuanian town of Ignalina slightly dropped. On March 20, the greens’ political party, which is against nuclear power plant construction in Lithuania and neighboring countries, was established in Vilnius. Regardless, Lithuania continues to plan its nuclear plant construction and this was encouraged by the opinions of the Swedish and Latvian prime ministers who visited Vilnius last week. Meanwhile, on March 15, when nuclear reactors were in trouble one after another in Fukushima, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a deal in Minsk that foresees a two-block nuclear power plant coming fully online by 2017-2018 in the village of Mikhalishki, in the Ostrovets district of the Grodno region (or the village of Mikailiskes in the Astravas district of the Gardinas region, as the Lithuanian media calls those former ethnic Lithuanian territories).

Putin stated that the Russian-built and Russian-financed nuclear plant on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border will be safer than Japanese plants. However, the Moscow-Minsk deal over the Belarusian nuclear plant (or rather Russian plant in Belarus), which will be situated 35 kilometers from Cathedral Square in Vilnius’ center, was taken in Lithuania as an act of aggression.

In case of accidents in the planned Russian nuclear plants in Russia’s Kaliningrad district (30 kilometers from the Lithuanian border) and Belarus, the capital of Lithuania will probably be transferred to Siauliai or Panevezys. The Belarusian nuclear plant will use water for cooling from the Neris River (called Vilia River in Belarus), which flows further via the center of Vilnius city. Eligijus Masiulis, Lithuanian minister of transport and communications, even called for an urgent meeting of Lithuania’s State Defense Council, which is made up of the Lithuanian president, prime minister, parliament speaker, defense minister, and chief of the army, to discuss extraordinary situations. However, this proposition got no support at the state’s top level. Former President Valdas Adamkus said that Lithuania should try to raise the issue of the Belarusian plant in the UN Security Council. However, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said that she will raise the issue at the EU level in the European Council – she wants that all nuclear plants in the EU, as well as near the EU’s external borders, be obliged to meet the highest security standards.

Speaking about the Belarusian plant, Lithuanian officials still tend to say “if it will be built” - indeed, Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko is dressed less extravagantly and supported more genuinely by his own people than Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, but both dictators are known as similarly unpredictable.

“If it will be built, I’ll demand international 24 hours per day monitoring of that nuclear plant,” Grybauskaite said on March 16, stating that “Vilnius is not yet the most insecure world’s capital.” The headlines in the Lithuanian media were shouting on that day about Vilnius as the most insecure world capital. Grybauskaite said that she talked to Lukashenko about the insecurity of the future Belarusian plant on the Lithuanian border, but he pointed out to the possible future Ignalina nuclear plant, which is on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. However, the Ignalina plant is much farther away from the big cities of both countries, and the reactor in Ignalina will not be, if it will be at all, of Russian production.

“Wrong reactors in the wrong place,” Stanislau Shushkevich, democratic head of the Belarusian state in 1991-1994, who currently is in opposition to the Lukashenko regime, told the U.S.-sponsored Prague-based Belarusian-language Radio Liberty on March 17. Aliaksandr Milinkevich, opposition candidate in the 2006 presidential elections who was awarded with the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, also expressed his doubts about the Russian plant with Russian-made reactors on Belarusian soil.

“The Russian and Belarusian governments propose for us to close our eyes and just believe that the Russian nuclear plant will be safer than Japanese plants,” wrote Belarusian and Russian ecologists, including Irina Sukhiy of the Belarusian NGO Ecohouse and Georgiy Lepin of the movement named “Scientists for non-nuclear Belarus,” in their open letter to the presidents and governments of Russia and Belarus on March 16. The letter’s authors point out that more than 50 percent of all possible nuclear accident scenarios in the future Ostrovets plant were simply not researched by the Belarusian and Russian governments.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consistently focused, and continues to focus, the international community’s attention on the development of the nuclear energy project in Belarus, which does not meet international safety standards,” reads the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry’s statement of March 16. On March 21, during the EU foreign ministers’ meeting on the Libya issue in Brussels, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis urged the EU to take joint action against the Russian plants on external EU borders. On the same day, during the EU states’ energy ministers meeting in Brussels, Lithuanian Energy Minister Arvydas Sekmokas echoed Azubalis’ appeal. On the same March 21, the Lithuanian government held a special meeting on the new Russian plants to discuss further actions on the international stage. An EU-wide boycott option of new Russian plant-produced electricity was discussed. After the meeting, Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius described the Russian reactors in Kaliningrad and Belarus as dangerous and “experimental.”

Although Putin, by building Russia’s two plants on Lithuanian borders, tries to create competition for the Ignalina project, Lithuanian officials say that they will go on with the building of the nuclear plant in Ignalina, which is a common project of the governments of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland. On March 18, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, visiting Vilnius, reiterated Latvia’s full support for the project. On March 14, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, visiting Vilnius, also praised nuclear energy stating that it is a clean energy, in respect to climate change, and Sweden is happy to have 10 nuclear plants. Moral support from Sweden is important because this country is becoming the leader of the region – Reinfeldt stated in Vilnius that Sweden, abandoning its traditional neutrality, will defend its fellow EU states in case of foreign aggression.


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