Ignalina nuclear power plant, 160 km north of Vilnius, Lithuania.

Ignalina nuclear power plant, 160 km north of Vilnius, Lithuania.

© Jan Haverkamp. Click image for a larger view.

As the year changes, it’s often customary to look back and think about those who are no longer with us. Here we bid farewell to Lithuania’s Ignalina 2 nuclear reactor, which was shut down on December 31.

The reactor was closed as part of the terms of Lithuania joining the European Union. Its sister reactor was closed in December 2004. The reactors were of a similar design to that at Chernobyl and so were closed due to safety concerns.

Questions are now being asked. Won’t power prices have to rise in Lithuania? Won’t the country leave itself open to relying on Russia for its power? In fact, the two Lithuanian reactors were reliant on Russian nuclear fuel. If anything the closure of the reactors means Lithuania is now able to diversify its energy sources.

Lithuania knew it had to close its Soviet-era nuclear reactors in 1999 when its application to join the EU was accepted. The closure is depicted as unpopular but a referendum held in 2008 on whether to close Ignalina 2 or not could not even attract the 50% of voter turnout required to allow it to pass.

That said, the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity has shown that ‘after closure of INPP by the end of 2009, Lithuania will be able to cover peak load during the winter period. Lithuania does not expect any critical situation during the winter period.’.

(Which is more than can be said for France which is being forced to import electricity while several of its nuclear reactors are off during the winter months. Nuclear power hasn’t stopped the lights going out there.)

Lithuania has had eleven years to consider contingencies for any energy gap. The country has much potential for several renewable energy alternatives including solar, wind, geothermal and hyro power. It’s time for it to embrace a new revolution.