back to article Lithuania hits off switch on nuclear plant

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 …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dumb Question

    If they are doing this as a condition of joining the EU why would they be dependent on Russia for electricity? Why not buy it in from the EU? There are already plenty of cross border power lines in the EU, even Britain and France have connections.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Britain already buys lots of its power from France.

  2. robert cooke

    another great idea from brussels

    will these idiots not be happy until they've taken everything that works, and then breaks it?

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Idiot EU

    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?

  4. Hollerith 1

    Not good for the EU

    Lthuania already takes on too many Russian practices (check out how its judges handle cases -- very politically) and weint he EU support it. Now to have them dependent on Russia for power makes them vulnerable, and more abuses will creep in as they try to do their master's bidding, within anEU content.

    I am all for a wider EU, but I think we rushed into embracing some eastern European countries without thinking hard about making them less 'Soviet' and more 'liberal'.

  5. Ross 7

    Baby, bathwater

    Errr ok - so the reactor is of an allegedly risky type (i.e. if you turn off the fail safes and see how hot you can get it there's a risk it won't fail safe, duh!) so they're going to dump all the ancillary gear such as heat exchangers, turbines, generators, excitors, grid interfaces, stores, offices etc as well? Makes sense....

    Why don't they pull out the old reactor and put a new "safe" one (or gas turbine) in and so not have to rely on Russias whims/political desires to heat the old peoples homes?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Speak your branes

      Decommissioning of the reactor was negotiated with Lithuania before Lithuania joined the EU in 2004 (similar negotiations were carried out with other countries). It is entirely the fault of the government of Lithuania that so little has been done for a replacement.

      A note to all Brussels bashers: while the negotiations may have been largely be the Commission, many of the conditions were imposed by member states such as pressure applied by the Austrian government regarding the Temelin reactor in the Czech Republic. It is, of course, possible to renege on obligations, as Cyprus has done over unification of the island, but that doesn't win you any friends when you need them (and Lithuania has had more than its fair share of help recently, Cyprus and Greece may be next).

      I, for one, welcome our EU overlords.

      1. F MacIllFhinnein

        Charlie Clark

        The Republic of Cyprus to blame for Turkey's illegal occupation of its soil? Surely not! It made me think that it really was becoming a Middle East in Europe, when I saw it - the natives can object however they want, but settlements will keep being built and the mother country will keep planting its citizens there to ensure that, eventually, Cypriots are outnumbered in their own country. This is, of course, Europe's most militarised country. What is amazing is some EU politicians actually want to allow Turkey to join the EU.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      RE: Baby, bathwater

      Nuclear power plant is usually designed for some reactor type/power, not the other way around. Moreover, all this gear is used, so additional repair costs would be needed, with big further expenditures when nearing the original decommission date. Quite probably, that would not be viable in this case. They are not dumb, they looked at this option surely.

      Gas turbine would not help, as the only viable option would be to buy Russian gas...

  6. Piro

    Terrible planning/funding

    Surely the EU should have massively helped out in the planning and building (and funding) of a new powerplant with an actual containment, you know, BEFORE their primary source of supply is switched off, causing price hikes.

    I know they're planning a new one now, but surely this should have been fasttracked some time ago - and you can bet your ass once the new power plant is in place, the prices won't fall back down...

  7. John Sanders

    Believe me when I say....

    That if the station is really of the same design as the Chernobyl one they better close it.

    The design of those reactors is crappy and prone to problems that can spiral out of control if one relax too much, no proper contention building, no "built-in" measures to stop self sustaining reactions from happening... etc.

    I do not have to remind of what happened on Chernobyl and how impossible it was to happen.

    For once I'm with those morons in Brussels, and I'm not against nuclear energy, I'm against an engineering design of a reactor that has proven to be dangerous.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @John Sanders

      "For once I'm with those morons in Brussels, and I'm not against nuclear energy, I'm against an engineering design of a reactor that has proven to be dangerous."

      Right , so dangerous that a meltdown has happened , errr ... once , since the RBMK reactor was designed in the 1950s.

      Yeah , sounds like a real risk to me, better shut them all down immediately!

      1. Badbob

        To be fair...

        To be fair to the original poster, I believe 1 catastrophic failure of a single reactor design type is 1 too many and any of this design still in service should be taken out of use. I know there are still a few reactors of this design used throughout the former soviet era, and even Chernobyl was still operational until recently.

        However, in the world of EU planning, would it not have made more sense to improve transmission links between Lithuania and the EU first? Or even fund the construction of a new Advanced Gas-cooled or Pressurised Water Reactor?

        Never mind, in 25 years time, when the UK stops dithering and actually builds some new nuclear plants, they can buy power from us.

  8. Pet Peeve
    Thumb Up

    Damn skippy

    Only an idiot runs a proven-unsafe reactor design. Now they need to get to work building a modern plant.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down


      Be careful there Skippy, you'll quip yourself into the dark ages before you can get some even newer, safer reactors of your own built. While Chernobyl's design was not optimal or even acceptable by today's standards, the accident was preventable, and wouldn't have occurred in absence of the the many procedural errors which occurred on that day. To assert that newer reactors are much safer on the basis that there hasn't been a Chernobyl is folly. And to assert that we stop using still-working contraptions on the basis that we now have better contraptions is another folly. It would be easy to say that since intrinsically safe reactor designs exist, that all lesser reactors be shut off. But then, I'd like to see you build one in the dark. If it can be established that measures are implemented (without greater expense) which ensure that a Chernobyl-like incident isn't repeated, then what's the problem?

    2. Anonymous Coward


      "unsafe" with previous safty measures - however only a _retard_ would think they havn't upgraded their safety procedures since then...

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        hmm not really

        The fundamental design was at fault. chernobyl happened due to a stupid test not a real incident. A real incident would have been just as bad as the accident as the reactors cannot fully insert the neutron moderators in the case of a low power coolant leak as the core warps.

        Unfortunately brussels is correct this time.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    John Sanders and Pet Peeve

    There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the design of the Chernobyl reactor. What went wrong was down to bureaucratic cock up and a Soviet era unwillingness to act without authorisation even in the most dire circumstances. When the reactor went critical it was during an experiment where the fail safe systems had deliberately been turned off - had they not been turned off, the explosion would not have happened. When the reactor started overheating, the staff on the ground were too scared to do anything in case they were disciplined for acting without authority. The staff who could give such authorisation were not at the plant, and when the on site staff called Moscow they were not understood.

  10. Phil Endecott

    Has no containment vessel

    As I recall, the central design mis-feature of this reactor is that it has no containment vessel at all.

    Like, there's just a normal roof and walls that keep the weather out. And that's it. All "western" reactor designs have a containment vessel so that the consequences of an explosion are much less serious.

    This place should have been shut down years ago. The fact that they're running it right up to the deadline and have no replacement suggests a "head in sand" attitude from those responsible. Of course, that attitude about energy planning is not uncommon here too....

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I agree on the closing

    And I agree that a new reactor should have been built first. I hope that at least part of the 800 million package will go toward funding a new one.

  12. cd


    Chernobyl was deliberately set off, by a nearly-incomprehensible chain of stupid "experimental" adjustments that would have nearly any plant off.

  13. Bad Beaver
    Thumb Up


    Safety first, thanks a lot.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Safety Third!

      Safety First means you pretty much get nothing accomplished.

  14. Stuart 22

    Too darned risky ...

    Another Chernobyl? Very, very unlikely since we know what they did wrong. So that won't happen again. Something else go wrong? Well possibly, but what exactly is the risk? Quite small and how many died as a result of Chernobyl?

    The answer to that question is still hotly debated. But you can guess it is a lot less than Lithuania and the deaths surrounding countries sustain from motor cars. That, unlike nuclear power generation is a proven and reliable killer. So shouldn't we remove those first? After all electricity is even more vital than four wheel transport. Or may be use Lithuania as the testbed for non-fossil fuelled electric cars. After all the size of the country means the current range restrictions are not a problem.

    I suspect this decision is emotional rather than rational. And how much are we paying for it? How much the Lithuanians? Oh, Comrade Putin must enjoy his opponents scoring own-goals..

    1. Captain Thyratron

      Since you mention it,

      An IAEA report in 2005, produced by a team of about a hundred scientists, counted something like 47 deaths directly attributable to the Chernobyl accident, and between four and five thousand deaths (likely) caused by cancer and other radiation-induced illnesses. However, the best anybody's going to be able to point out is a slight statistical increase in thyroid cancer, leukemia, and birth defects. (Naturally, Greenpeace probably wants to blame every such death in Europe since 1986 on the incident.) I am inclined to agree with you: By comparison, 3,259 Ukranians died in traffic accidents in 1996*, which is in the same ballpark.

      Just to put things in perspective: I wonder how many of the people who whine about Chernobyl have heard of what happened at a certain Union Carbide carbaryl plant in Bhopal, India in 1984. Now THAT's an industrial accident. Over three thousand people died in a single night from breathing methyl isocyanate, and the death toll has climbed well above 10,000 from related illnesses and injuries since then. I think it might still be disputed as to whether it's broken 20,000 yet. The plant is still leaching toxic waste into the groundwater to this day, though. But, hey, it's not radioactive, so it's cool. The greenies have other problems to solve, like cheaply available electricity and toilets that flush.


  15. John Savard Silver badge


    The Chernobyl disaster happened because of incompetence among the technicians, running a simulated failure. The EU, if it is so concerned, should assist with the replacement costs, not just the decomissioning costs.

  16. Captain Thyratron

    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'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.

  17. John Tserkezis

    Money money money...

    What? You have your own power station? Can't have that now can we?

    If you want to be part of the Union, WE will supply power. We have lots of watts left spare that we're quite happy to let you use for a fee.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    now if you look at it...

    who benefits most from this?

    a) lithuania? no.

    b) eu? no. well, one can argue about safety and stuff, but 'cmon, we know it's not true. this reactor is safe enough.

    c) russia? yes!

    who's been pushing for the closure?

    a) lithuania? no.

    b) eu? yes. officially, i must add.

    c) russia? no. officially.

    kind of makes you think, doesn't it? if you see what i mean...

    for those who can't read between the lines - it's more than obvious that russia manipulates eu as and when they like...

  19. Aron
    Big Brother


    Just goes to show whose pocket the EU is in.

  20. Adrian Midgley 1

    Chernobyl reactors not a good design

    Turning it off is a good idea.

    Building a stack of new ones is also a good idea.

    And very overdue.

  21. Volker Hett
    Thumb Down

    to all those happy to run a reactor on 25year old soviet electronics

    why don't you pack your Lada and move near to one?

    I had the "pleasure" to sit deep inside a frigate with a gas mask and a rubber suit on for hours when we sailed through a certain fall out cloud in 1989, enlightening experience. Milk, mushrooms and meat was contaminated for close to two years, in germany, thousands of miles from the place of the incident.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @volker heff

    "sit deep inside a frigate with a gas mask and a rubber suit on for hours "

    A strange place to have a bondage session , but hey , I guess sailors go a bit mad without many women about.

  23. -tim

    History to repeat?

    So once the plant is "off" does anyone want to guess how long it will be before someone in the EU demands that the safety control system be removed to prevent it from ever going back online? Then look forward to the next time oil prices skyrocket and that plant will get reactivated unless it is replaced. Aren't bureaucrats great?

  24. Herby

    Maybe just build a containment vessel??

    Most of the hardware in a power plant is pretty common even for nuclear and steam power. It may take a bit of time, but a nice new "good" reactor (from France?) might plug like a new CPU on a motherboard.

    P.S. Pipe fitting extra. At least they turned off the engine before it seized now they need to do a heart transplant! Hopefullt there is no immune reactions during the transplant!

  25. Algis Petraitis

    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!

  26. Glenn 4


    The reactor design for the Chernobyl reactors was purchased from the CIA after the american military found them to be unstable and prone to runaway. Shutting this one down is arguably good IF AND ONLY IF they are not shifting the load to others of the SAME DESIGN. Increasing load on these bad boys is a recipe for disaster, period.

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