Ignalina NPP: description, history, incidents and interesting facts
Lithuania is one of the most energy-poor regions in the Baltic, where there are neither energy resources nor powerful hydropower. There is only Kaunas station with a capacity of 100.8 MW. This station is capable of generating 376 million kWh / year, which is equal to three percent of the total energy consumption in the country. There is also the Kruonisi PSP, which pumps water into the upper reservoir in the event of excess electricity at night. And at the peak of energy consumption, this water is discharged, producing a current. That is, the Kruonisi PSP produces less energy than it consumes, but on the other hand, it allows you to smooth large loads during peak consumption. It was built just for the Ignalina NPP, which physically cannot give less energy at night. Nuclear power plants lack such flexibility in power regulation.
It turns out that today Lithuania is able to independently provide itself with electricity by only 3%. However, this was not always the case. At the time of the Ignalina NPP operation, this country was an electricity producer. The energy generated by this NPP was more than enough to ensure its own energy independence.
What is the Ignalina NPP?
Under the USSR, the Baltic countries experienced a power shortage. This did not allow industry to develop, so in the 70s it was decided to build a new nuclear power plant. Its location was chosen so that, if possible, from this station it was possible to lay power lines to Latvia, Belarus, and Lithuania. Therefore, the station was actually created in Lithuania, but in the maximum proximity to the borders of Belarus and Latvia. You can even say that the station was close to Kaliningrad and Estonia. It was calculated on the supply of electricity to this entire large region.
A bit of history
Construction began in 1974. In parallel with the construction of the station, a small town for power engineers Snechkus (now called Visaginas) was formed and actively developed around the Ignalina NPP.The NPP itself was equipped with unique water-graphite reactors (RBMK-1500), which at that time were considered the most powerful in the world. Only one unit had a thermal capacity of 4800 W, which made it possible to produce a net power capacity of 1,185 MW. And despite the fact that the thermal capacity for safety was reduced by 12.5% due to the accident at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl. As a result, the thermal capacity of the unit amounted to 4200 MW. The third and fourth blocks provided 1380 MW of power each.
So, the very first unit was launched on December 31, 1938. The second block joined four years later - in 1987. It was supposed to build 4 blocks, which would later be supplemented with two more. The third reactor was already intended to be built, having laid it in 1985, however the fourth unit remained only in the plans.
The third and fourth blocks would have been built, but because of the accident at Chernobyl (where trivial experiments occurred that caused the accident) and the so-called restructuring, the construction of the third block ceased in 1988. The final point was the collapse of the USSR and the accession of Lithuania to the European Union.
After the collapse of the USSR
By the way, after the withdrawal from the USSR Ignalina NPP, Lithuania received as a dividend from the Soviet Union.The country also got a huge transit port of Klaipeda, the best transport system, an oil refinery.
The Ignalina NPP has become the pinnacle of the country's economy, because it allowed supplying production and households with cheap electricity. In total, the country needs about 10 billion kWh per year of energy, and today Lithuania is not able to produce such large amounts of electricity, even taking into account the construction of wind power plants from 24 turbines and all attempts made to supply the country with electricity. However, only two units of the Ignalina NPP would allow solving the problem of Lithuania’s energy supply, since in 1993 they were able to produce 12.26 billion kWh of energy. This is 88% of the total electricity produced in the country. Consequently, only two blocks fully satisfied the needs of the whole country, and the energy of the other two blocks could be sold (exported). But even with two operating capacities in the country, 13.9 billion kWh was produced per year of energy, therefore, 3.9 billion kWh could be sold.
Imagine how much the country's economic and energy potential would increase if all four NPP units were operating.This would make it possible to produce about 30 billion kWh of electricity per year, which would make it possible to sell the energy of Belarus, the entire Baltic region, adjacent parts of Russia, and even Poland.
Why shut down the Ignalina nuclear power plant?
Many experts believe that Lithuania did a very wrong thing when it accepted the conditions for joining the European Union. In accordance with these conditions, joining the EU was possible only in the event of the closure of this power plant. Already on February 19, 2001, the government adopted a program to close the first unit of the nuclear power plant. Already in 2004, the first unit stopped its work. On December 31, 2009, the second reactor was also shut down, and Lithuania thereby fully fulfilled its obligations to the EU.
Interestingly, as the deadline for the closure of nuclear power plants in the country approached, referendums were held. The last of them was failed due to low voter turnout. About half of the country's population came to the referendum, but 90% of them voted to extend the operation of the power plant. Despite this, it is still closed.
Without Ignalina NPP, Lithuania today is very hard due to high electricity tariffs and huge energy dependence on other countries.But to say that after the closure of the NPP, Lithuania was left with nothing - to say nothing. In addition to rising electricity prices, the country has to spend every year a lot of money to close the station. After all, it is impossible to just hang a lock on the building of the Ignalina NPP, it takes 25 years to deactivate the blocks.
What does a power plant cost in Lithuania?
In January 2014 (4 years after the closure of the NPP), the station employed 2,100 people. Many of these people are high-class specialists with a large salary, but the country does not have to spend so much money on their maintenance. Much more money is spent on the deactivation of nuclear power plants. Different experts cite different numbers, but on average they agree that it takes about five billion dollars to deactivate blocks. Of course, it is important to note that the EU allocated 450 million dollars to Lithuania at the closure of the Ignalina nuclear power plant, but these are ridiculous amounts compared to the huge capital needed for the complete decommissioning of the enterprise and deactivation of the blocks.
It turns out that the Government of Lithuania, with its stupid intention to become a member of the European Union, has turned the "golden" enterprise with the greatest economic potential for the country into a large, voracious monster, which causes only losses.
Where to get electricity?
But further - more. Electricity still needs Lithuania. Only one hydroelectric station and two dozen windmills are practically useless given the required amount of electricity. It would be possible to buy energy from neighbors if the neighbors had free kilowatts, but they are not. Therefore, Kaunas CHP, GRES in Elektrenai and other weak heat stations had to take the rap. As a result, huge amounts of fuel were needed. Gas, coal, oil - all this was imported from abroad, in particular from Russia. Lithuanians had to forget about cheap electricity, because after the closure of INPP, most of the country's budget was spent on the purchase of energy carriers.
Gas problems in Lithuania
A little later, the Russian Gazprom took advantage of its monopoly on the Lithuanian market and raised gas prices. Lithuania had nowhere to go, and the government had to buy expensive gas in Russia. Many Lithuanians are still unhappy with this decision of the Russian Gazprom and blame Russia for all sins.
An alternative to gas was nuclear fuel from the Ignalina NPP. And if the latter worked, gas would not have become expensive, since electricity could replace natural fuel in some cases (not everywhere, of course).However, the possibility of obtaining easy money "Gazprom" could not pass.
Why is the EU?
Why did the EU demand from Lithuania to close INPP? Formally, it was a question of safety, since at the Ignalina NPP, reactors were used that were structurally similar to reactors used at the Chernobyl NPP. However, no serious accidents were reported at Ignaline after 22 years of reactor operation, and the station itself was on the list of the safest NPPs in the world, according to the IAEA. Yes, there were sometimes problem situations. In particular, in 1988 there was damage to the pipeline of the exhaust system of the exhaust steam due to water hammer. Also, due to the cold weather in 1994, fire protection equipment froze. In 2017, smoke occurred at the Ignalina NPP. As a result, the alarm went off, firefighters were called to the station, who quickly eliminated the source of smoke. These events did not entail any negative consequences.
Let's return to Europe and the EU requirement to close INPP. Given the high security level of the station, the EU’s requirement to close the station was political.
The EU government understood that such a station determined the independence of Lithuania, which was why it could talk on an equal footing with other EU members. Thanks to INPP, Lithuania had a huge potential for industrial growth due to the cheap electricity. This would ensure a constant flow of currency and investment. However, now the budget of Lithuania is half filled with money from the EU, therefore the country is often forced to take undesirable decisions. Many experts understand why they shut down the Ignalina NPP: they unanimously say that the reason was political.
Alternative to closing
If the station was closed, it could have been done more reasonably. The fact is that the operating NPP made it possible to modernize or build new water power generators instead of high-capacity channel reactors. The money obtained from the sale of electricity could go to the construction of hydroelectric power plants, and then the closure of INPP would not be so painful for the Republic of Lithuania. Cheap electricity would create excellent conditions for attracting investment in industrial development, and the presence of a number of countries with electricity shortages (Latvia, Estonia, Poland, even Russia) would allow the country to receive currency.Unfortunately, the Lithuanian government made a stupid decision and simply implemented a project to close the INPP without developing a preliminary plan for switching to other (non-atomic) energy sources, and the EU could not prevent this under any pretext.
But what happened happened, and one of the most developed countries of the USSR with a huge economic and energy potential lost it all.