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Lithuania feels impact of nuclear plant closu -

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In the former Soviet Republic of Lithuania, the population overwhelmingly supports nuclear power -
but the country's only nuclear plant was closed anyway.

Transcript

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: The more countries around the world talk about climate change, the more
nuclear energy seems to enter the discussion.

In Australia, the prospect of building nuclear power plants remains a tough sell politically.

But in the former Soviet Republic of Lithuania the nuclear debate has played out in a very
different way.

There, the population overwhelmingly supports nuclear power - but the country's only nuclear plant
was closed anyway.

And the impact goes far beyond higher electricity prices.

Moscow correspondent Norman Hermant reports from Lithuania.

NORMAN HERMANT, REPORTER: The fuel is gone from the reactor and the work of closing this nuclear
power station goes on.

The days of generating power for over a million homes is over here.

In the control room technicians are still on duty monitoring a mix of modern western and Soviet era
technology.

This plant is still technically in operation but it's not producing electricity. There's not much
to do but watch as livliehoods melt away.

SERGEJ SLESARENKO, IGNALINA POWER PLANT (translation): Well there are certainly not many positive
emotions.

It's only recently that the station worked and produced electric energy, now we have been
transformed into a huge consumer of electricity and it's not quite clear how long this sort of work
will be maintained here.

NORMAN HERMANT: Closing the Ignalina nuclear power plant was the price Lithuania paid for joining
the European Union. It's reactors were similar to the type that exploded at Chernobyl.

After years of planning the last unit shut down when 2010 began.

In the nearby town of Visaginas, purpose built by Soviet planners to house the plant's workers,
there is uncertainty about the future.

Vladimir Vaschilo worked at Ignalina for 27 years before losing his job. People here, he says, are
angry.

VLADIMIR VASCHILO, FORMER EMPLOYEE IGNALINA POWER PLANT (Translation): Well in general yes,
especially those who work at the station or whose job is linked to the station, because the station
didn't just generate electricity it indirectly, through its contracts, was feeding the economy all
around Lithuania, and all of Lithuania is starting to feel that.

NORMAN HERMANT: Lithuania was the opposite of a nuclear protest state.

Ignalina provided 70 per cent of the country's power and most people wanted it to stay open. In a
referendum more than 90 per cent voted for it to continue running.

But nothing could stop the shut down. Even those in charge acknowledge that what they are doing
will not win them any popularity contests.

VYGINTAS LEIPUS, HEAD OF ENTERPRISE PLANNING IGNALINA POWER PLANT: Frankly speaking a lot of people
still believe that it's not, was not worth to do.

But as you know we deal with what has been decided and we, that cannot be changed and cannot be
reverted back. So we have a fact that we are working on.

NORMAN HERMANT: So, with more than a billion dollars of EU money this station is coming apart,
piece by piece.

Decommissioning a plant like this is a very long and painstaking process.

It's not only the fuel rods that have been removed from this reactor that need treatment for high
radiation levels, it's also the pipes, the turbines, any of the machinery used in the plant also
has to be treated.

They'll be decommissioning this plant for the next 25 to 30 years.

Most of the equipment and machinery, classified as low level radioactive waste, will be stored for
the next half a century in a new building near the plant.

As for the spent fuel, it could be highly radioactive for perhaps a thousand years.

Environmental groups say nuclear waste was only one reason why closing Ignalina was the right move,
even if it remains an unpopular decisions.

SAULIUS PIKSRYS, COMMUNITY AGJATA ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP: Well we think that nuclear is dangerous and
it creates a lot of another problems like, from an environmental point of view, the management of
spent fuel and radioactive waste is a very expensive business and very dangerous.

NORMAN HERMANT: But those arguments carry no weight for those still working here. They say this
plant had a flawless safety record and could have kept running for decades.

For many it's the only job they've ever known.

PAVEL KHALETSKIY, IGNALINA POWER PLANT (Translation): We've been working here for 25 years and to
find yourself in such a position before retirement, many people have turned out to be unemployed,
they were laid off.

We stayed but we don't know either, maybe in a year or two we will also be laid off.

NORMAN HERMANT: Or sooner. Employment here is falling by the month. Soon little more than a
skeleton staff will remain.

But Lithuania isn't giving up on nuclear power. The great hope is that it can convince some of its
neighbours, such as Poland and Latvia, to help pay for new reactors.

Those shutting down here hope they can do the building.

VYGINTAS LEIPUS: Of course everyone understands that nuclear energy is much cheaper, of course it
has its own consequences.

NORMAN HERMANT: As for the consequences, anyone who's visited one of these plants doesn't need a
reminder. Our equipment is scanned for traces of radiation and so are we.

Here such checks are not a cause for fear. They're a part of everyday life that most don't want to
see end.

Norman Hermant, Lateline.