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Ignalina-1 closed in next three years?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#502
13/11/1998
Article

(November 13, 1998) An international high-level expert group has recommended that the European Union press Lithuania to close the Ignalina-1 reactor without rechanneling. Lithuania wants to organize a technical review group with the European Union to look at how and when the Ignalina-1 reactor could be closed. Officials also said that without a shutdown, they want financial help from the EU.

(502.4953) WISE Amsterdam - Some 28 parliamentary deputies of various political stripes have signed an appeal to set up a commission that, among other things, would study alternative sources of energy to the Ignalina nuclear power plant. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Saudargas says the government has already begun considering how to find new jobs for plant employees. More than 1,000 people work at the plant, as well as others in the town of Visignas which was built for plant workers and provides all their services. But not all would lose their jobs, since Ignalina's second reactor could continue to run for seven or eight more years, according to government officials.
Reason for closure is to be the warping of fuel channels: Ignalina-1 can only operate 32 more years without changing its fuel channels. RBMK fuel channels warp under radiation and thermal stresses, narrowing the gaps between them and the graphite moderator. Eventually, they narrow to the point where reactors cannot be "safely" operated unless the channels are replaced. It is believed that this point would be reached after one year at full power. Because the reactor does not operate at full power but at different power levels, it is estimated that one year full power works out to be three years at current levels. The three-year life-limit, however, could be prolonged until 2005 if the reactor operates at lower power or by making other adjustments.
Lithuania agreed not to replace the fuel channels when it reached a ECU 33 million (US$ 38.7 million) agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development back in 1992. Then European Union felt it was necessary to close the RBMK's reactors as soon as possible. Agreed upon was the closure of Unit-1 in 1999 and Unit-2 in 2002. But the EU gave financial aid for short-term safety upgrade of the reactors, without much pressure for meeting the agreed upon timetable for closure. Official EU policy states that a condition for joining the European Union is the closure of "Category 3, or non-upgradable units", the Ignalina RBMK reactors are in this category. (see also related story: 'Real Ways to Reduce Nuclear Risk in Eastern Europe'.) It is still unclear if the EU still takes seriously the condition for joining the EU (closure of the reactors) as mentioned in the Agenda 2000. Already, in March this year, the European Commission stated that some of the countries with Category 3 reactors "will continue to have difficulties in meeting agreed upon early closure timetables". The report admitted that Ignalina-1 would not be shut down before 2002 and Unit-2 not before 2005. Now these expectations would not even be met.
Only last month experts said the European Union and its current member states should abandon any "rigid requirements for conditionality (of aid), and especially plant closure agreements", because they run counter to the main objective of improving nuclear safety.

Lithuanian officials in the past had made clear that the preferred option would be to rechannel the reactor (and thus break the EBRD agreement), continue operation for 10 to 15 years, and sell the electricity to foreign customers to receive hard currency.

Sources:

Contact: Lithuania Green Movement, P.O. Box 156, Kaunas LT- 3000, Lithuania.
Tel: +370-7-207 250
Email: atgaji@kaunas.omnitel.net