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Russia overshadows Lithuania's no vote to nuclear power.

VILNIUS, Oct. 17 Kyodo

Some observers say Russian clout appears to have played a role in Lithuanian voters' rejection in a referendum Sunday of a government project for Japan's Hitachi Ltd. to build a nuclear power plant in the country as it tries to reduce its reliance on foreign energy supplies.

They suggest Moscow has been engaged in various attempts to derail the project by influencing public opinion or coming up with plans to build atomic power plants around Lithuania to supply power to neighboring Baltic countries just as the Lithuanian plant is designed to do.

Just over 60 percent of Lithuanians expressed opposition in the nonbinding referendum to the plan to build the Visaginas nuclear power plant with a 1.3 million kilowatt advanced boiling water reactor, far exceeding the some 30 percent in favor.

Referring to the result, the defense minister of neighboring Latvia, Artis Pabriks, tweeted that "Russia's wish" had won. Lithuania is hoping that two other neighboring Baltic states -- Latvia and Estonia -- will take stakes in its nuclear project in exchange for supplying power.

Lithuania shut down the Soviet-era plant in late 2009, after the European Union requested its closure due to obsolescence as a condition for Lithuania joining the union.

The country currently imports about 80 percent of its energy needs from Russia and is hoping that the nuclear power project will play a central role in reducing its Russian reliance to 24 percent.

Disgruntled by such a prospect, Russia "has been attempting to derail the new nuclear project by tapping into political and media allies in Lithuania," said a diplomatic source.

A senior official with Russia's state atomic energy corporation Rosatom said in November that Hitachi-proposed advanced boiling water reactors have not been tested outside Japan and could be extremely dangerous.

A source at Hitachi said, "We have been so busy fighting a variety of negative campaigns."

Rosatom plans to build nuclear power plants around Lithuania -- one in Neman in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and another in Astravets in Belarus, which has close ties with Russia.

Both plants are located close to the Lithuanian border and are expected to go on-stream in 2016 or 2017, ahead of the Lithuanian plant's planned startup in 2021. Both Rosatom stations, like the Lithuanian plant, are planning to supply power to Baltic countries.

The Belarus plant is only about 50 km from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, generating some heat between the two countries. Lithuania took issue with the Belarus plant's close proximity to it but Belarus argued that the planned Lithuanian plant is similarly too close to it.
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Comment:Russia overshadows Lithuania's no vote to nuclear power.
Publication:Japan Energy Scan
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Oct 22, 2012
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