Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Nuclear Come-Back in Baltics?

As the leading growth region of Europe, the Baltic area has every reason to look carefully at its nuclear security.

Finland is already starting to build its 5th nuclear unit. The country simply does not want to become too dependent on imported energy. Pipelines to Russia have, as has recently been demonstrated, some limitations if you become too dependent on them.

And now the debate has reached the Baltic countries. It's only the beginning.

Ignalina in Lithuania is the location for one of the Soviet RBMK-type nuclear power plants. More modern than Chernobyl, it still has some characteristics that were doubtful, and this lead to extensive safety enhancement of it during the 1990's.

As part of the process of joining the European Union, Lithuania had to promise to close down Ignalina. Its first unit is already closed, and the second is planned to be closed in 2009.

Now, however, the wisdom of this is widely questioned, and not only in Lithuania.

There are probably two options for the future.

One is to continue with Ignalina 2 for the foreseeable future. The other is to build a brand new nuclear power plant using some of the infrastructure at the location. Since this will take time, extensions of Ignalina 2 and the building of a new station might be the realistic alternative.

There are certain to be wide interest in such a scheme. It could make a substantial contribution to the economy of Lithuania in the future, and it would increase the energy security of the region.

It might well be that there will be a need even for Russia to import electricity in a decades time or so.