TO BE OR NOT TO BE..?
Laura Stankutė ir Eduard Melman Ekonomikos fakultetas
In this report we would like to talk about the pluses and minuses of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP) closing. The main reason why we have chosen this theme is that Lithuanian politics often talk about European Union (EU), and the ventilation about Lithuania integration is very ambiguity.
As we know Lithuania wants to become a member of EU as quick as possible. The negotiations, which have been started some years ago, are an extraordinary event in the relation between Lithuania and EU. After the restoration of independence Lithuania started implementing radical economical reforms driven by mass privatization. Since we started to build a free market economy. Lithuania almost achieved this goal; the result is that Lithuania is going to be one of the members of EU in 2004. After a mass privatization reforms in Lithuania there are left some structures, which belong to the government. But all future plans can be destroyed, because Ignalina plant is not just a structure, but a NUCLEAR power plant. Now these structures are very important for our economy. Privatization of the “Mažeikių nafta” has been a terrible mistake. Lithuania pays to “Williams” 200 mln. Lt. subsidies per each year. That’s why our politics are afraid to make one more mistake. This question was and still is hotly debated, because it disturbs not only Lithuania, but also whole Europe.
The INPP is within the Utena region, situated in Ignalina municipality. Over 95% of INPP’s staff live in Visaginas town and Zarasai. Being a mono-industrial area overwhelmingly dependent upon INPP, non-INPP employment is very limited in these municipalities. About 5,100 full-time workers work at INPP with a further 5,000 employees working in organization serving INPP. The workforce contains a significant share (up to 18%) of highly qualified specialists. The majority of the workforce originates from the former USSR republics, with Russian as the first language.
Redundancies from the INPP had already begun in a small scale: partly due to improvements to the efficiency of the plant prior to decommissioning, and partly to a declare in electricity production due to reduce export possibilities. Some 1,000 redundancies from INPP might be expected over the next 4 to 5 years. The consensus of the Western European Nuclear Regulator’s Association (WENRA), which was in March 1999, view is that there would not be a tidal wave of unemployment caused by mass redundancies. Rather there would be a progressive and unavoidable rise in redundancies that would put sustained pressure upon the local market and would result in growing unemployment.
We understand that ensuring a high level of nuclear at the INPP in Lithuania is an issue of exclusive importance and attention. Measures for nuclear safety are coordinated with the requirements of the Euroatom Treaty and the Convention on nuclear Safety. But our country is not so wealthy as others, that’s why the sum of the EU subsidies for INPP closing is too small. There are given some recommendations of Positive Measures, but will they be effective? In the Visaginas area, decommissioning will provide long-term employment for many people. Others will need to re-train their professional skills. The Commission will therefore provide financial assistance to social and employment programs to be implemented to those that will be directly affected by the plant closure. Some examples of positive measures raised included:
• Efforts to increase and focus vocational training should be stepped up;
• A research and development center to utilize skills of the qualified redundant should be established;
• Potential for flexible home-based and internet driven pattern of employment and income generation for high and intermediate skill level should be explored;
To do or not to do that is the question. EU’s politics make us close the Unit 2 reactor of INPP until 2009. But why they are in such a hurry? May be they are afraid about their future remembering the tragic accident in Chernobyl NPP sixteen years ago? Maybe they thinking that after Lithuania joins the EU the INPP will become a powerful competitor in the energy industry, but is it so bad? Or might it be so that someone will profit of it?
Of course we understand that INPP must be closed. Due to its design flaws a possible major accident at the RBMK plant would have far more serious consequences than with other types of reactors. And we understand the view of EU, because as politics they have a responsibility towards the citizens of Europe, particularly the citizens of Lithuania and those of other countries that could be affected. As human beings they also have a responsibility for a safer future for the next generations. Giunter Verheugen, a member of the European Committee said: “I oppose any notion that Ignalina should be seen as the main issue of Lithuania’s accession to the Union. It is not. It would be unfair towards Lithuania to make such an assumption. Lithuania inherited a weighty burden from which other Candidate Countries were spared. The liberalization of the energy sector is the real challenge for accession. I firmly trust the Lithuanian authorities to implement their closure commitments and to decide upon a closure date for Unit 2 when passing the revision of the National Energy Strategy in 2004. I have no reason to assume that Lithuania would want to
turn Ignalina into a key problem of its accession by failing to honor these commitments”. We think that these words say a lot.