“There is real concern that we won’t manage to do everything in time and the international community is starting to raise that issue,” Saulius Kutas, director of the State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate (VATESI), told a news briefing. Lithuania, one of the 10 mostly east European countries invited to join the European Union in 2004, pledged during accession talks to close one reactor at its Ignalina nuclear power plant by 2005 and the other in 2009. The EU, which considers the facility unsafe as it shares the same design as the ill-fated Chernobyl plant, has promised to support the closure with a total of 525 million euros ($614.7 million) through 2006 and more later. Kutas said Ignalina was already more than a year late with a master plan meant to harmonise decommissioning projects over three or four decades and ensure safety throughout. He hoped the plan would finally be ready in September and said Lithuania should do everything to meet its obligations, even if that increased closure costs. Rimantas Krenevicius, head of Decommissioning and Radiation Protection at VATESI, told Reuters the delay meant that the reactor would likely have to be maintained for a time after shutdown before fuel removal and dismantling could start. Each year of delay would add about 100 million litas (29 million euros) to the total closure bill, which the government puts at 3 billion euros, including “social” costs. But Krekenevicius said reactor one might have to continue operations into 2005 for another reason – the delayed construction of a new heating plant at Ignalina. “The first reactor provides heating for the nearby town and also for the nuclear plant. Replacing that function is crucial for nuclear safety,” he said. A tender to build the new boiler was announced in mid 2002 but then cancelled. A new tender with different technical specifications was announced this spring. “Until it is built, we would have to keep the first reactor running at minimal capacity to provide for heating needs, even though that would not be the ‘full closure’ we promised the EU,” Krekenevicius said.