In Between the Major Powers

VILNUS/BERLIN/MOSCOW | | litauenrussische-foederation

VILNUS/BERLIN/MOSCOW (Own report) - German-Russian nuclear energy intrigues are provoking protests in Lithuania. In Vilnius the Minister of Energy is complaining that in contravention of the terms of the contract and in spite of billions in financial outlays, the dismantling of the Ignalina nuclear power plant is stalled. The contract was accorded the German Nukem company, which at the time, was a subsidiary of the German RWE Corp. but was bought last year by the Russian Atomstroyexport company. The delay in dismantling the Ignalina plant is of particular significance, because it also postpones the construction of the new Lithuanian power plant, at the same time enhancing Russia's prospects of making Lithuania - and eventually Poland - dependent on energy from Russia's new "Baltic Nuclear Power Plant" now being constructed in Kaliningrad. The Kaliningrad power station is destined to deliver nuclear produced electricity also to Germany, thereby intensifying the German-Russian energy cooperation. The German Siemens Corp. is being considered by Kaliningrad's project organizer to be a possible partner. Last year, Siemens had agreed to enter long-term cooperation with the Russian atomic energy administration, Rosatom. The further elaboration of the European-Russian relations in the energy sector is on the agenda of the EU-Russian Summit, which begins today. Berlin and Moscow will be the ones to profit most from this relationship.

Nuclear Electricity Rather than Dependency

Since the 1980s, the Ignalina nuclear power plant, whose stalled dismantling is provoking protests from the Lithuanian minister of energy, has been producing the lion's share of Lithuania's electrical power, most recently, 70 percent of the country's energy supply. During the EU membership negotiations, the government in Vilnius was pressured by the EU to agree to shut Ignalina down - the first block by January 1, 2005, the second by December 31, 2009. In Lithuania, this had provoked significant resistance right up to the end. In a referendum held in 2008, a majority of nearly 90 percent of those who voted was in favor of keeping block 2 in operation, even against the will of the EU. But participation in the vote having been just under half of the electorate, the results of the referendum were pronounced null and void. Last February, several thousand protesters demonstrated in the vicinity of Ignalina, because since the shutdown, the costs of heating and electricity have nearly tripled - surpassing even the monthly rent.[1] Vilnius is also placing priority on nuclear powered electricity, because this source allows them to maintain at a minimum their dependence on Russian gas. This idea has brought also Poland to contemplate placing stronger accent on new nuclear power plants for its own energy supply -cooperation with France.[2]


In 2005, Nukem, which had been headquartered in Germany, was given the job of dismantling the Ignalina nuclear power station. At the time, Nukem was a subsidiary of the German RWE company and had been very prosperous in the business of Eastern European radioactive waste disposal. According to Nukem, it had garnered 50 percent of the East European market's lucrative business deals. Experts estimate that the Ignalina dismantling would cost around 2.3 billion Euros. According to Lithuanian information, 60 percent has already been financed, including significant EU subventions. In violation of the contractual stipulations, not a single sub-project has been completed. This is grave, because parts of the structures to be built are needed for waste storage from the new nuclear power plant. The Visaginas power plant, to be built right beside the shut-down Ignalina plant, is to assure Lithuania's energy supply and even make it possible to export to other Baltic countries and Poland. The construction of Visaginas is also being obstructed by delays in the Ignalina dismantlement, because the nuclear waste depots serving both are far behind schedule.[3]

New Dependence

Vilnius is particularly angry because these delays are lending special impetus to the planning of a Russian nuclear power plant. Moscow wants to construct a "Baltic Nuclear Power Plant" in the exclave Kaliningrad, which, on the one hand, would assure the long-term electricity supply for Kaliningrad and on the other, also supply electricity to the Baltic countries and even Poland, making these countries much more dependent on Russia for their energy. Moscow declared that after Ignalina's shut down, measures would have to be quickly taken to avoid a serious energy crisis in the Baltic and Poland, since Poland, to reduce its carbon-dioxide emissions, will have to close down some of its coal power stations. The longer it takes for the Visaginas nuclear power station to be built, the more advantageous it is for Russia to strengthen its position with the "Baltic Nuclear Power Plant" and force Poland and Lithuania into dependence on Russia's energy policies.

German Interests

Polish observers noted that the German company Nukem had been bought by the Russian Atomstroyexport company.[4] According to Lithuania's Minister of Energy, Nukem has been responsible for prolonging delays. Atomstroyexport is set to provide the nuclear reactors for the Kaliningrad power plant. But also the German industry has considerable interests in this project. According to current planning, not only is the "Baltic Nuclear Power Plant" supposed to provide nuclear produced electricity to Germany, thereby circumventing current difficulties in building new nuclear reactors in Germany. In addition, the project developer is considering the German Siemens Corp. as potential partner for the construction of the Kaliningrad nuclear power plant.[5] This is hardly surprising. Last year Siemens reached an accord for long-term cooperation with the Russian nuclear administration, Rosatom.[6] Atomstroyexport is among the enterprises being directed by Rosatom, which is also directly involved in the Kaliningrad power plant project. The fact that cooperation in Kaliningrad between Siemens and Rosatom has not yet been formalized is due to Siemens not having been able to extract itself from its contractual responsibilities with Areva NP (France), the conflict has yet to be settled in court.

Billions in Profits

If Siemens should win the franchise in Kaliningrad, this would produce a carbon copy dispute to the conflict over the Baltic "Nord Stream" pipeline.[7] The Nord Stream is rejected by Poland and the Baltic countries because the pipeline opens the possibility for a direct German-Russian cooperation in the field of energy, shutting out Poland and the Baltic countries as transit territories, thereby depriving them of an important factor of influence. They are significantly weakened in their relations with Moscow and Berlin, awakening historically well-founded apprehensions of being caught in a German-Russian stranglehold. If the "Baltic Nuclear Power Plant" in Kaliningrad is in fact completed before the Lithuanian Visaginas nuclear reactor, Visaginas would be put into question and Poland and the Baltic countries would be under pressure to be supplied with Russian nuclear powered electricity. The serious foreign policy consequences for Vilnius and Warsaw would be of little importance to Siemens and Rosatom. Both, together, are seeking to become the world leaders in nuclear power plant construction. Experts in this branch estimate that by 2030, up to 400 nuclear reactors will be constructed in the world, which means billions in profits.[8]

[1] Proteste nach Schließung des AKW Ignalina; 28.02.2010
[2] see also Erdgaskooperation
[3], [4] Lithuania has problems disassembling the old Ignalina power plant; 26.05.2010. See also The Berlin-Moscow Economic Axis (II)
[5] Ulrich Heyden: Putins Atomoffensive; WOZ 11.03.2010
[6] see also Dangerous Frictions and Nuclear Alliance
[7] see also Area of Natural Gas, Erdgaskooperation and A Question of Orientation
[8] Ulrich Heyden: Putins Atomoffensive; WOZ 11.03.2010