Lithuania forced by EU to buy Russian fuel

Lithuania is struggling to find a solution to a looming energy crisis and may turn to Russia to help fill the gaps. The Baltic state's only nuclear power station is being forced to shut down next year.

When the country joined the EU in May 2004, it was on the condition that it close its Ignalina nuclear power station.

The EU's claims that the Soviet-era power plant is unsafe are disputed by the plant's management. They say that “no scientifically credible reasons which would prove that the INPP has lower overall safety criteria then western power plants have been advanced.”

Before decommissioning began, the plant supplied 80% of Lithuania’s energy needs, making Lithuania more reliant on nuclear power than any other country in the world.

After the closure of the facility the situation will reverse and Lithuania will become 90% dependant on fossil fuels, half of which must be imported from Russia.

Lithuanians fear catastrophic hikes in fuel prices when the plant shuts down, and local demand for fossil fuels shoots up.

Some observers believe that Lithuania is now attempting to delay the plant's closure. Opposition parties have even suggested ignoring the EU's order.

Russia is building a nuclear power plant in neighbouring Kaliningrad, and has offered to sell its electricity to Lithuania to help it fill the gap when the facility is shut down. Two reactors in Kaliningrad are to be built at a cost of €EUR 5 billion, and could be ready as early as 2015.

At the European Nuclear Energy Forum in Prague last month Lithuania's Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said that Lithuania was an island within the EU in terms of energy supply, and that the construction of power bridges with Poland and Sweden would take another few years.

When the power plant closes, the Baltic state will have to rely on Russia for its energy supply.

The result is an embarrassing situation for the EU, which many in Lithuania blame for replacing Lithuania’s energy independence with reliance on Russian fuel imports.