Atomic Policy in Latvia

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Soviet Time

From 1940 to 1990 Latvia was a part of the Soviet Union thus its nuclear policy could not differ from the Soviet one. Main political and economical decisions were made by the Soviet government in Moscow and the government of Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) had to implement them. Their power to object was limited.

In the 1950s Soviet government decided to build 20 research reactors in different regions of the USSR and abroad[1], following an initiative by Igor Kurchatov. Kurchatov was a Soviet nuclear physicist who is widely known as the director of the Soviet atomic bomb project.

However, the idea to build a research reactor in Latvia was a local initiative. It was a proposal from physicists from the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences. The government of Latvian SSR forwarded it to the Council of Ministers of the USSR in spring 1958. The acceptance was received a few weeks later. The construction of „Salaspils Research Reactor“ (SRR) started in January 1959. SRR was put into operation in 1961 and carried out neutron activation analysis, nuclear reaction research, researches in solid state radiation physics, radiochemistry and radiobiology. It is the only research reactor Latvia has ever had.[2] SRR is located 2 km from the centre of Salaspils city and 25 km from Riga, the capital. It was shut down in 1998. The spent fuel was sent to Mayak Production Association in Russia in May 2008 within a bilateral governmental agreement.

At the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s the second nuclear facility was built - a radioactive waste repository. It is called „Radons“ and is located in Baldone, 5 km from the city of Baldone and 27 km from Riga, the capital. „Radons“ (in operation since 1962) is a near-surface repository for both burial and storage of low and intermediate level radioactive waste.

The fact that there are no nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the territory of Latvia does not mean that there were no plans to build them. Alluding to deficiency of natural energy resources in the north-western part of the former Soviet Union and more extensive application of nuclear energy, the USSR State Plan Committee recurrently proposed Latvia to build an NPP. It is known as the Pāvilostas NPP project.

The project was not implemented. In the 1980s, when the construction works could have started, two historical events - „perestroika“ and Chernobyl disaster – interrupted all plans.

Independent State

Latvia is a country that considers nuclear power as one of energy sources - the country needs to import 20-30 % of electricity per year. A part of it is nuclear power. The country was purchasing electricity from Ignalina NPP and a part of electricity imported from Russia is also produced in NPPs. In the document “Development of Nuclear Energetics in Latvia” (2009) it is stated that “summing up the amounts of electricity purchased from Lithuania and Russia which are produced at NPPs, we obtain approximately 1 TWh electric energy a year.” In 2012 the total energy consumption in Latvia were 9 TWh.

The Government is pro-nuclear. Information available on the website of The Cabinet of Ministers states that "On Friday, December 2 [2011], Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and Prime Minister of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius in conversation have confirmed that the Visagina Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) will be economically viable and advantageous project for the people of the Baltic States."[3] In March 2012 the Prime Ministers of all Baltic States met in Lithuania and "have reaffirmed their commitment to build the Visaginas power plant and have promised to work together to make sure progress is maintained"[4]. An article, available on the discussion page of the Ministry of Economics praises nuclear power and lists its (so-called) benefits[5].

Although the future of the Visaginas NPP (LT) project became unclear after the Lithuanian referendum in autumn 2012, Latvia is still a stakeholder. On January 29, 2013 Āris Žīgurs, Chairman of the Board of the energy power supply enterprise "Latvenergo", stated "I confirm that we still have interest [in this project]".[6]

As of February 2015, the Ministry of Economics has confirmed that negotiation with other stakeholders continues and they are still interested in the project as long as it would be economically beneficial. At the same time the Ministry admitted that many important issues, such as safety and storage of nuclear waste, are still not answered.[7]

One of the reasons why Latvia is interested in the Visaginas project is the willingness to reduce energy dependence from Russia.

When it is about public discussions about energy, nuclear power usually appears as an inevitable source of it in future. For instance, Namejs Zeltiņš, President of Latvia Member Committee of World Energy Council and Member of the Board of National Confederation of Energy has stated “There is no other way how to insure Latvian energy independence.”[8]

The document “Development of Nuclear Energetics in Latvia” also states that “Considering the deficiency of energy resources and restrictions on emissions, it will be possible to ensure reliable provision of Latvia with electricity only by applying nuclear energy.”[9] Nuclear power is praised because “The NPPs are economically profitable and their main advantage is non-pollution of atmosphere with harmful emissions.”[10]

Although 38,75 % of the total energy consumption in 2006 was made by renewable energy[11], it is not seen as a good alternative to nuclear power because it is “expensive”.

An energy development plan that was presented in a board meeting of both Latvian Member Committee of World Energy Council and National Confederation of Energy on August 4, 2008 envisages that until 2010 gas would be dominating in Latvian energy, from 2010 to 2020 energy would mostly be produced from coal, from 2020 to 2030 – from coal and nuclear power, but after 2030 Latvia would have to build an NPP in order to ensure the country's energy independence.[12]

In February 2015 it was announced that Latvia is a participant of "BRILLIANT" (Baltic Region Initiative for Long Lasting InnovAtive Nuclear Technologies), an international nuclear research project. Its aim is to facilitate the development of technology in countries without active nuclear programs.[13]

As for the public opinion on nuclear power, it is difficult to assess it. For instance, an opinion poll "Whether or not Latvia should participate in the Visaginas project" (taken on July 3-5, 2012) showed that 45 % of respondents were supporting the project (13 % said "definitely yes", 32 % said "rather yes"), 37 % said "no" (15 % - "definitely no", 22 % "rather no"). 18 % had no opinion on this issue.[14] But given that only 500 people participated in this opinion poll, it cannot represent the general public opinion.

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