EBRD funding has helped Lithuania pursue new energy sources and shut down the EU's last RBMK reactor.
As Europe said farewell to 2009, history was made in the far north east of the continent on December 31. With the closure of unit 2 of Lithuania’s Ignalina nuclear power plant, the last RBMK-1500 reactor in the European Union was shut down. It was an RBMK reactor that exploded in the 1986 Chernobyl accident and ever since efforts have been made to end Soviet-designed RBMK and first-generation VVER reactor operations because of safety concerns.
"This is a milestone," says Vince Novak, the EBRD Director for Nuclear Safety. "The Bank's nuclear safety team was set up with the objective of phasing out the designated RBMK and first generation VVER Soviet-designed reactors. This is the culmination of that effort."
A huge challenge
As well as working on the closure of Chernobyl and on making that site safe, the EBRD is engaged in Bulgaria, Lithuania and the Slovak Republic with three decommissioning funds. These were set up by the EU and donor governments in 2001 and are managed by the Bank. Unit 2 in Ignalina was the final piece of the jigsaw.
The man who was there from the beginning is Günter Grabia, Senior Manager in the EBRD's Nuclear Safety team. "Shutting down a reactor is the easy part," he says. The entire decommissioning process, however, is fiendishly complex. It entails the construction of pre-decommissioning facilities for safe management and storage of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, the phased dismantling of contaminated and activated systems and buildings and, finally, site restoration. "It is a big challenge, but one that we relish," adds Mr Grabia.
In Lithuania, decommissioning is carried out with the assistance of the EBRD-managed Ignalina International Decommissioning Support Fund. An interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuels and a treatment centre for solid radioactive waste are nearing completion. Other ancillary facilities are already in place. The total cost of the Ignalina decommissioning is estimated to be around €1 billion, with final completion not expected before 2029.
In order to alleviate the energy losses following the closure of the nuclear power plant, which once provided 80 per cent of Lithuania's power supplies, the EBRD and the Ignalina decommissioning fund are providing financial support for the construction of alternative facilities. These include state-of-the-art plants with a 450 MW (electric) combined cycle gas turbine in Lithuania, which is jointly financed by the Bank, the Ignalina decommissioning fund and commercial banks. Neighbouring Latvia, which used to purchase energy from Ignalina, will now benefit from the construction of a 400 MW (electric) and 270 MW (thermal) combined cycle gas turbine, an EBRD, EIB and commercially-financed project.
Nandita Parshad, EBRD Director for Power and Energy, adds: "Günter and I used to sit near each other in those early days of the Bank when the nuclear safety team was set up. Our teams were closely involved even then in the efforts to phase out RBMK and first generation VVER reactors. I am so pleased that with the financing of the projects in Lithuania and Latvia, the Power and Energy team are able to make some contribution to this historic achievement."
Work is also underway to connect the Baltic states to western European power networks to improve their energy security and the EBRD will continue to be active in these efforts.