RUSSIA ASKS LITHUANIA NOT TO SHUT ITS IGNALINA NUCLEAR REACTOR

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VILNIUS, August 3 (RIA Novosti) - The top management of major energy companies in Russia, Belarus, Estonia and Latvia (Unified Energy Systems (UES), Belenergo, Eesti Energia, and Latvenergo, respectively) have approached the Lithuanian government with a request that it should not shut down the Ignalina nuclear reactor until a thermal generating facility, with a projected power capacity of 450 megawatt, starts its operations in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Coast. They have forwarded their request to Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, reports the Lietuvos Rytas newspaper.

According to Lietuvos Rytas, the construction of the new thermal generating facility in Kaliningrad is still ongoing; its launch is scheduled for November 2005. As for the Ignalina nuclear plant, Lithuania has been planning to shut it down at the end of this year-something the country committed itself to before it was admitted to the European Union.

Some time ago, Unified Energy Systems (UES), Belenergo, Eesti Energia, and Latvenergo agreed with Lithuanian counterparts that their power grids would be operating in conjunction, and the closure of the Ignalina reactor may disrupt the whole system.

UES spokespeople confirmed to RIA Novosti Tuesday that the company had indeed approached the Lithuanian government with such a request.

"To ensure smooth passage through the autumn and winter season, we deemed it necessary to approach the Lithuanian government, as we believe the extension of the Ignalina plant's operations will be pivotal to the normal functioning of the Baltic energy hub and to the parallel operating of UES and the power grid shared between the three Baltic countries" that used to be part of the Soviet Union, Tatyana Milyaeva, official spokeswoman for UES, said.

The Lietuvos Rytas newspaper, for its part, quotes reliable sources as reporting that already, Lithuanian authorities have been informally instructed to look out for arguments that would help convince Brussels of the need to prolong the Ignalina plant's operations. It should be allowed to run for at least another half-a-year, as long as there are guaranteed fuel supplies to keep it going, the newspaper says.

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