On 14 October, the people of Lithuania go to the polls to vote in a referendum on whether the country should build new nuclear reactors in the town of Visaginas. Will they join the people of Austria who gave a resounding “NO!” in 1978 and the people of Italy who said “NO!” not once but twice in 1987 and 2011?
Lithuania’s referendum campaign has begun but instead of a lively debate about energy strategies and the risks of nuclear power, the country’s ruling party, along with several others, have decided that their strategy to get support for nuclear will be mud-slinging. Everyone critical of nuclear power is basically accused of being an agent for Russia.
Mud-slinging and smear campaigns. It’s a very familiar tactic. In Russia, critics of the government are called “foreign agents”. In Belarus, anti-nuclear activists are jailed under accusations of “hooliganism” Is Lithuanian’s Prime Minister Kubilius trying to match Presidents Putin and Lukashenko?
In October and in alliance with local anti-nuclear campaigners, Greenpeace will join an “Ask the Expert” tour to some of the largest towns in Lithuania. You’ll find us in Klaipeida on October 9, Siauliai on October 10, Kaunas on October 11, and Vilnius on October 12.
There are many compelling reasons why there is no need for nuclear reactors in Lithuania and the wider region:
— The region depends entirely on the Russian electricity grid for its stability of supply. Building yet more large centralised electricity sources, such as nuclear reactors, only increases that dependence. Lithuania has far cheaper and more stable alternatives that can deliver electricity faster, are independent from Russia, and will create sustainable and skilled local jobs: energy efficiency, wind, biomass, solar, and inter-linkage projects like NordBalt with Sweden to create a stable independent grid. It’s a no-brainer and yet Lithuania’s PrimeMinister Kubilius calls this kind of common sense a “vote for Russian and Belarussian nuclear power stations” and influential Parliament Member Žilinskas says it will “support the forces that mean no good for Lithuania”.
— GE Hitachi want to build Lithuania’s new reactors but we know that weaknesses in the company’s reactor designs played a role in the nuclear catastrophe in Japan last year. Why should they be trusted again?
— Lithuania knows first hand about nuclear catastrophe. In 1986, over 7,000 Lithuanians volunteered or were forced to become “liquidators”, putting out the fires at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Why should they risk a repetition of that terrible event?
— With 3.2 million inhabitants, Lithuania is a small country. VATESI, its nuclear regulator, has more than its hands full with the decommissioning of the old Ignalina nuclear reactors that were closed in 2009, and dealing with their nuclear waste. It isn’t familiar with GE Hitachi reactors and the European Commission sees no other way to mend this than having Hitachi train VATESI – talking about keeping the regulator independent… Japan is learning to its cost what happens when nuclear watchdogs are too close to the nuclear industry.
— New nuclear is an enormous financial risk. While official statements say that construction will cost €5 billion, costs are already rocketing way past that. Given the fact that a reactor of this design has never been build in Europe, that the after-Fukushima stress test results from the EU and Japan still need to be implemented into the design, and that VATESI has no experience with it, it is almost certain that those costs will increase massively. And someone will have to foot that bill.
— Lithuania is frantically looking for a solution to the nuclear waste produced by the closed Ignalina reactors. It has as little idea what to do with nuclear waste as the rest of the world. Should this dangerous burden be doubled?
There is no need for spies and subterfuge when the evidence against new nuclear power in Lithuania is clear. There are no secrets here. Why is the Lithuanian government playing this game?
I hope the people of Lithuania will vote for their future, not for their ghosts of the past.
(Jan Haverkamp is Greenpeace’s expert consultant on nuclear energy and energy policy in Central Europe)
(Images copyright Jan Haverkamp/Greenpeace)