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Lithuanians say ‘no’ to new nuclear plant

Akcijos „Pabusk“ akimirka
Luko Balandžio/15min.lt nuotr. / .
Šaltinis: BNS

Lithuanian voters said ‘no’ to the construction of a new nuclear power plant at the non-binding referendum last Sunday.

Although the final results are not yet clear, the plebiscite is considered valid since, according to preliminary data, the turnout exceeded 51.5 percent, i.e. was above the required threshold of 50 percent.

“The referendum has been accomplished. The referendum’s statement “I support the construction of a new nuclear power plant in the Republic of Lithuania” was rejected,” Zenonas Vaigauskas, chairman of the Central Electoral Commission (VRK), told BNS.

According to preliminary data from 1,892 polling districts out of 2,017 published by the electoral panel, NPP opponents are in a clear lead – 33.96 percent of all votes are in support of the nuclear utility and 62.7 percent are against.

Support is higher in merely one polling area of Zarasai–Visaginas, the planned site for building the nuclear plant – where 66 percent of voters voted in favor of the facility and 31 percent were against. The distribution of votes in Ignalina–Švenčionys district was 46 percent and 50 percent respectively.

Energy Minister on holiday

With early results of Sunday’s non-binding referendum showing that Lithuanians oppose a new nuclear power plant in the country, it appears that Energy Minister Arvydas Sekmokas has gone on holiday.

He could not be reached by phone either on Sunday night or on Monday morning.

Kęstutis Jauniškis, the minister’s spokesman, has told BNS that the minister is not in Lithuania now. He has added, however, that the results of the referendum should be commented by politicians, not by the minister.

Jarda Paukštienė, the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman, told BNS that Sekmokas would be off work between 15 and 19 October.

No hasty decisions

Algirdas Butkevičius, leader of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party, has said on Monday he has no intentions of making any hasty decisions in connection to Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant, pledging to continue negotiations with project partners.

"We are indeed rational people and will discuss, talk, and make no hasty decisions," he told reporters.

The politician said he had so far missed "clear economic calculations of the final value of the project."

Speaking at the news conference, Butkevičius restated he did not support the current model, adding that the three opposition parties planning a ruling coalition after Sunday's parliamentary elections had not yet formed a joint position on the matter.

Furthermore, Butkevičius pledged to personally continue consultations with the other two Baltic nations and Hitachi.

Butkevičius said the three parties holding coalition talks have not yet discussed the fate of the Visaginas project.

"There is no decision and there were no discussions on the matter. We have repeatedly made it clear – we are not against nuclear energy, we are against this project, which was submitted to the parliament too late, merely a few months before the elections. If we were to look at practices in other countries, such bills are discussed in parliaments for up to two years," he added.

"We're saying 'no' to this project," said the leader of Social Democrats.

Later asked to specify the message he would send to Hitachi, Butkevičius replied that the talks with the Japanese concern would not be terminated.

"I had two meetings with the Japanese ambassador and the next meeting will take place after the parliamentary elections. I have emphasized in a clear manner that Hitachi was to do its homework, as demanded by Latvia and Estonia. We're in contact with politicians of other countries. We're ready to continue talking and cooperate to find out the information that is available to us and them," he noted.

Butkevičius said he was in support of the liquefied gas terminal project, adding that it should become a regional project and apply for European Union (EU) aid.

Another referendum in a few years

Meanwhile Viktor Uspaskich of the winning Labour Party suggests that Lithuania might hold another referendum on nuclear energy in a few years - when the price of construction of a new nuclear facility is clear, according to him.

"When there is a project and many questions are answered, we'll be able to ask people again in a few years," Labour Party's leader told a news conference on Monday.

He said that the results of the Sunday's advisory referendum on construction of a new nuclear plant would be highly important for politicians, adding that the position was not final.

"We should first wait for the project, and once we have answers about the price, the energy production price and the price of integrating the project into networks of the European Union, about the need of a highly expensive underground storage facility. All the calculations will lead to a decision," Uspaskich added.

He emphasized he supported nuclear energy but wanted an economically attractive project.

Up to the new Seimas

Final decisions on the fate of the project will be taken by the future Seimas and government, says CEO of Visagino Atomine Elektrine (Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant, or VAE) Rimantas Vaitkus.

Japan’s Hitachi, which has been chosen as a strategic partner for this project, will also wait for these decisions, Vaitkus has said.

“We keep contact with Hitachi’s people and are waiting for final official results. It is a non-binding referendum and the final decisions will be made by the government and the Seimas. Both we and Hitachi will wait for those decisions. Nobody can say what will it come to eventually and now we have to continue with what we have been doing so far,” he has told BNS.

In particular, he emphasized the importance of high turn-out at the referendum and the “importance of how people see this project.”

Strong message

Opposition to the construction of a new nuclear power plant among Lithuania’s population sends a strong message both to future authorities and to potential investors in the nuclear facility, a political science expert has said.

“It is a strong political signal to the new ruling coalition, which will be formed after the general elections. It is also a strong signal to the project partners, including the Japanese, Estonians, and Latvians,” Ramūnas Vilpišauskas, director of Vilnius University International Relations and Political Science Institute, told BNS.

Latvia's and Estonia's reaction more important than Hitachi's

Gitanas Nausėda, an adviser to SEB Bankas president, believes that Japan’s Hitachi will not abandon the project, yet it will wait for political decisions on the project’s fate.

“Hitachi is a solid company. It will not go round in circles, it will wait for the decisions of our politicians,” Nausėda told BNS.

The reaction to the referendum’s results by the nuclear power plant project partners, including Latvia and Estonia, was much more important, he said.

“This result is also the result. Now the most important is what the partners will think about the referendum. If their approach is negative, it will be difficult to manage without the partners,” the expert said.

In Nausėda’s view, the Lithuanians did not support the project due to overabundance of contradictory information.

“People were overwhelmed with information from both sides, including the proponents of the facility, and its opponents, rather spontaneously. It was difficult for them to put two and two together and to go into the arguments put forward by both parties,” Nausėda said.

Discontents - less than third of population

Less than a third of Lithuania's 2.5 million eligible voters questioned the benefits of a new nuclear power plant (NPP), President Dalia Grybauskaitė has said in comment of referendum results.

"Less than a third of Lithuanian citizens eligible for voting doubt the benefits of a new nuclear power plant. The new government and Seimas will have to take the opinion of part of Lithuania's population into consideration and make a decision that would most benefit Lithuania," presidential adviser Daiva Ulbinaitė cited the president's words to BNS on Monday.

Grybauskaitė has refused to comment on results of the parliamentary elections until publication of final data.

Hitachi waits

Japan ’s Hitachi, the strategic investor chosen by Lithuania’s government for a new nuclear power plant, would not comment on the results of Sunday’s referendum on the new facility for the meantime.

The company is waiting for the final results of the referendum to be published, Terry Kubo, the head of public relations at Hitachi Power Systems, has told BNS.

“We are still waiting for final confirmation about the result of the referendum,” he said.

Russia's victory

Latvia's Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said the outcome of the Lithuanian referendum on construction of the new nuclear power plant was a victory for Russia.

"Russia's wish not to have a nuclear power plant in the Baltic states has won after the referendum in Lithuania," Pabriks said on Twitter.

Bad timing

Bad timing chosen for the referendum has led to grave negative consequences for the country, Romas Švedas, former deputy energy minister and one of the key negotiators in talks with potential investors in the new nuclear facility, has said.

“I think that the referendum, as a process, has dealt a strong blow to Lithuania’s reputation. I have said since the very beginning, that the timing chosen for this referendum is bad. In fact, referenda are a good thing but the timing chosen for this one was bad, the idea of the referendum was born amid confusion in the parliament, and then the referendum ... has become a platform for politicians and a subject of politicizing. And thirdly, it produced grave negative consequences, just due to bad timing,” Švedas, who resigned as deputy minister last year and now calls himself an independent expert, told BNS.

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