Lithuania Partners with Hitachi-GE for New Nuclear Reactor

Hitachi-GE will provide Lithuania with its first new nuclear reactor since its last reactor, Ignalina 2, was started in 1987. After receiving competing bids, Lithuania selected Hitachi-GE’s ABWR technology and the deal opens the door towards enhanced bilateral relations between Lithuania and Japan, as well as with the U.S.

Lithuania's Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius (left) pictured with Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda Photo Credit: Cabinet Public Relations Office Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

On February 19, Lithuania’s Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius led a delegation “to brief the Japanese Government on the progress of [the] Visaginas nuclear power plant project and to discuss future joint work, as well as to see advanced Japanese nuclear technologies.” According to a press release from the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, it’s been two years since Lithuania closed down its only two nuclear reactors—Ignalina 1 and Ignalina 2—both Soviet-Type RBMK reactors similar in design to the one that failed in Chernobyl.

Japan-Lithuania Summit Meeting Photo Credit: Cabinet Public Relations Office Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

When Lithuania opted to become a part of the European Union, shuttering the two reactors was a condition of the negotiation. Despite huge investments to improve nuclear safety, the reactors of Ignalina NPP were considered unsafe. It was said that the old Russia-designed power plants do not meet European Community safety standards and raised a concern to the EU.  As a result, as certain countries in Central Europe (Slovakia andBulgaria) with similar plants opt into the EU, their accession into the EU was conditioned on closing those plants. This was not seen as a means for curbing nuclear energy but rather an opportunity to improve the nuclear safety in this region while encouraging the construction of state-of-the-art plants with improved safety features.

According to Simonas Satunas, Deputy Lithuanian Ambassador, closing the two plants was very painful for Lithuania. It meant that Lithuania lost 70 percent of its generating capacity and had to rely on gas imports from single supplier (Russia) to bridge the gap lost from its nuclear generation. Additionally, electricity prices immediately increased by 20 percent and 3,000 people found themselves out of a job. To put the current energy situation in figures – Lithuania paid 3.5 billion USD in 2011 for all imported natural resources (oil, gas etc.)

In an effort to shed this dependency from imports especially of Russian natural resources, Lithuania opted to reintroduce nuclear energy. Significantly, the new reactor will provide Lithuania with the power to once again claim energy independence and deliver an economic source of carbon free base load electricity. Construction of the reactor will also create new jobs as well as bring back jobs lost when the Ignalina plant was shut down. Positive impact for the national economy will also be clearly visible – Visaginas NPP project is the biggest investment project in Lithuania ever.

Under a separate agreement with the Lithuania government, the U.S. utility company Exelon Nuclear will provide consulting on technical issues and assist in the  engineering and procurement of fuels and construction services.

Construction is expected to begin in 2014 and with the reactor going on line in 2020.