Conflicts emerge over environmental impact study for new Baltic nuke plant and derail renewables development

Publish date: March 12, 2009

Written by: Galina Raguzina

Translated by: Charles Digges

KALININGRAD – Preparations for a transnational environmental impact study for the Visaginas nuclear power plant in Lithuania have been completed successfully, according to the Visagino Atomine Elektrine press service and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But Lithuanians and neighboring countries have complained they have not seen a final version of the project.

The plants developers expect conclusive permission to begin construction on a site that is yet to be announced this month. A presentation of the environmental impact study was held on February 9th at Lituania’s Environmental Ministry.

“They said that this version (of the impact study) had passed with the participation of representatives of the responsible  institutions, but we never received and information about this, despite the fact that we submitted commentary  to the report” said Alda Ozola of the Lithuanian Greens in an interview with Bellona Web.

“We also were not informed about how our commentary was considered,” she said.  

Until the approval of the (Lithuanian environmental ministry) is announced, the current study cannot be said to be in violation of the 1991 Espo Convention,  said Ozola, The Convention obliges signatory nations to carry out an environmental impact assessment of certain activities at an early stage of planning.

It also lays down the general obligation of states to notify and consult each other on all major projects under consideration that are likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact across boundaries.

“However, we must see that the documents were sent to the (corresponding) ministries of other counties,” Ozola said.

According to environmentalists, even if international consultations are completed, there must be discussion of a conclusive study with the Lithuanian people and civil society organisatons. Nevertheless, no information about the time or location of such a discussion has been announced.

“I don’t think they will manage to complete the study’s procedures in March. If they do complete it, it will definitely contain violations,” said Ozola.

Contradictory evaluations

The optimism of the Visiganas Nuclear Power Plant’s developers is bolstered by a positive reaction by the IAEA to the environmental impact study they prepared. Six IAEA experts from Argentina, France and Great Britain spent a week in Lithuania analysing the impact study and said it conformed to accepted international practices and legislation and contained adequate information for realization of the project to be adopted.  

However, the IAEA team recommended that the material be reworked in order that it be more accessible to a lay public, and said that the environmental impact documentation must be shown to neighboring countries.

Visagino Atomine Elektrine says that dozens of representatives of government and municipal authorities, civil society groups and other competent officials from Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Poland participated in their discussion of the environmental impact study.

Meanwhile, in October 2008, the Lithuanian Environmental Ministry was sent commentary from Russian environmental organisations to the preliminary environmental impact study that was put to discussion in August. Conclusions reached by the organization Ecodefence, in fact, were an exact contradiction of the IAEA group’s findings. Ecodefence said in their assessment that the environmental impact documents didn’t contain even a minimum of necessary information for evaluating the proposed plant’s on the environments.

“It would be reasonable to freeze the review of the environmental impact study until lacking information appears, and subsequently to renew consultation on the basis of developed documentation,” Ecodefense wrote.  

Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian environmentalists offered up the sharpest criticism of the impact study. Among the most serious deficiencies, they pointed out a complete lack of discussion about what to do with spent nuclear fuel from the Visaginas plant, the absence of comparative chacteristics of the impact of various types of reactors, an insufficient evaluation of possible accident scenarios, and doubtful assertions of socio-economic benefits which the project will ostensibly bring.

They also noted that during the last public consultations on the project in all three Batlic countries, none of these issues was sufficiently addressed.

The alternative energy strategy
Environmentalists in Baltic countries say that a new nuclear power plant would contradict the so-called Baltic Energy Strategy, which was adopted by Baltic Governments in 2007. The strategy envisions diversification and use of local energy sources. Nuclear energy is neither renewable nor local. As such, environmentalists say that bowing to nuclear monopolies will hobble their chances of developing a renewable energy market.

The new nuclear power plant project also does nothing to cut greenhouse gas emissions. As the environmentalists show, emissions associated with using the station are equal to the emissions produced by a contemporary gas fired plant. To consider the use of nuclear power as a whole, the burning of fossil fuels in uranium mining, fuel processing, transport, construction and decommissioning nuclear power plants must be considered. Then there is the lingering problem of long-term storage for spent nuclear fuel.

The strategy proposes a sustainable energy scenario that envisions efficient used of Baltic-based energy sources to facilitate a movement away from coal and nuclear power.

A nuclear free future for the Baltics

According to this scenario, a significant portion of power at work in gas shale in Estonia would be decommissioned, and the remainder modernised and used during periods of peak demand. The use of oil shale is limited due to high prices on the carbon market. Heat generation with biomass is widespread. Estonia would a powerful electricity exporter because of large scale wind power development, and coupling with the Scandinavian electric grid. Thanks to Estonia’s appearance on big markets, seesaws in wind energy production would be compensated for by hydro electrical power in Sweden and other countries. The portion of natural gas in the energy balance would remain high.

Latvia would introduce new energy through gas and so-called clean coal, and interest in using biomass would grow. The wide use of hydro electric plants would not change, and its share in the energy equation would remain high in order to compensate for variations in wind energy production in Estonia and Latvia. Energy efficiency would receive serious government support.

Lithuania would not need a new nuclear power plant, as by 2020, energy demand would principally be covered by modernized gas powered stations, and government stimulus would be directed at energy efficiency, which would lessen the energy deficits left by the closure of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. Wind and hydro-electric energy production’s portion in the energy balance would grow thanks to government support for carbon free energy. Use of biomass fuels would sharply grow, and energy stations working on agricultural waste would appear throughout the country.

For the Baltic Energy Strategy to work, however, time, investment and political will are required. The clock is ticking, as the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant will only be producing electricity for the next nine months.  So far, however, the Lithuanian government is poised to go down a familiar path: last week, it signed a deal with for 10 years worth of electricity deliveries from Russia.

More News

All news

The role of CCS in Germany’s climate toolbox: Bellona Deutschland’s statement in the Association Hearing

After years of inaction, Germany is working on its Carbon Management Strategy to resolve how CCS can play a role in climate action in industry. At the end of February, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action published first key points and a proposal to amend the law Kohlenstoffdioxid Speicherungsgesetz (KSpG). Bellona Deutschland, who was actively involved in the previous stakeholder dialogue submitted a statement in the association hearing.

Project LNG 2.

Bellona’s new working paper analyzes Russia’s big LNG ambitions the Arctic

In the midst of a global discussion on whether natural gas should be used as a transitional fuel and whether emissions from its extraction, production, transport and use are significantly less than those from other fossil fuels, Russia has developed ambitious plans to increase its own production of liquified natural gas (LNG) in the Arctic – a region with 75% of proven gas reserves in Russia – to raise its share in the international gas trade.