Baltic leaders lobby over new nuclear plant

Associated Press
Latvia's Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, right, Estonia's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, left, and Lithuania's Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius shake hands  during the Baltic Prime Ministers meeting  in Vazgaikiemio village, Prienai district some 125 kilometers (77.5 miles) from Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, March 8, 2012. The meeting may outline how each Baltic country will contribute to a future nuclear power plant, planned to be construct at Ignalina, Lithuania.   (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
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Latvia's Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, right, Estonia's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, left, and Lithuania's Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius shake hands during the Baltic Prime Ministers meeting in Vazgaikiemio village, Prienai district some 125 kilometers (77.5 miles) from Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, March 8, 2012. The meeting may outline how each Baltic country will contribute to a future nuclear power plant, planned to be construct at Ignalina, Lithuania. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — The leaders of the three Baltic states on Thursday urged energy companies to reach an agreement on a new nuclear power plant seen as crucial in ensuring the region's independence from Russian energy supplies.

The project was originally announced six years ago in hopes to quickly replace a Soviet-era, Chernobyl-style nuclear plant in Lithuania that was shut down in 2009 due to safety concerns. But the euro5 billion ($6.5 billion) project has run into several obstacles, particularly disagreements over how to divide the plant's output.

The U.S.-Japanese consortium Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy was brought on board last year as a strategic partner, and prime ministers from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia urged all sides to complete negotiations by June.

"The energy companies have indicated what amounts of energy they expect from the nuclear power plant," Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius told a press conference. "This makes me believe that further negotiations will be smooth and rapid."

The prime ministers also said they would seek European Union funding and ask Poland to consider to rejoining the project.

Poland had been a participant to negotiations for years but withdrew in December to focus on constructing its first nuclear power plant.

The Baltic leaders refused to comment how the output of the project 1,300 megawatt plant would be divvied up, but Estonia's Andrus Ansip said Estonia expected some 300 megawatts.

Success of the new plant, which would be built next to the shuttered Chernobyl-type facility in Visaginas in northeast Lithuania, is also crucial given that Russia and Belarus are both building large nuclear power stations right across the border from Lithuania.

Lithuanian officials have slammed the neighbors' projects are environmentally unsound and have threatened to place on ban on exporting output from these plants to the Lithuanian market.

Russia hopes to complete its first reactor in the Kaliningrad region in 2016, while Belarus' plant, which Russia will build, will likely be launched in 2017.

Lithuania's facility is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.