Campaigning against nuclear in the Baltic States

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Decommissioned Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania

(Update Oct 15th 2012 – in a non-binding referendum, Lithuanian voters rejected the proposal to construct a nuclear plant

For the Baltic States and much of Eastern Europe, the debate over nuclear energy is on-going, in spite of the legacy of Chernobyl and the more recent Fukushima disaster. The focus of the debate is on plans by several Governments to rebuild a nuclear plant at Visaginas, Lithuania. The plant was closed for safety reasons before Lithuania joined the EU, but now four countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland) are considering coming together to reopen it. This is an issue that GEF has engaged with, working with local partners last year to organise a conference that brought together many of the opponents of the project.
The complexity of the project, the number of partners involved and the high cost have combined to create an opportunity for the project to be stopped, and for these countries to turn instead towards renewable energy and energy efficiency. With a strong campaign, the Latvian Greens believe they can stop their country from signing up, and so dealing a heavy blow to the plans.

Unlike other European countries, notably Germany, there has been little public debate about nuclear power in Latvia. Many Latvians, if they do consider the issue, believe that a new nuclear power plant will bring cheap energy, and so are inclined to support the project. Even after Fukushima, there was little public debate about the safety issues involved. So, to succeed, the Latvian Greens have to both spark debate, and undermine the idea that the Latvian economy will benefit from a plant built in Lithuania.

As the Latvian Cabinet has to decide on whether the country will support the project, the Latvian Greens wrote to each member of the Cabinet and asked them why they thought the project would benefit their portfolio. For example, why does the Minister for Culture, or the Minister for Welfare, or the Minister for Health, support the project? These letters were made public, with the aim encouraging public debate about the issues involved.

In particular, the Latvian Greens have questioned the economic benefits that will come with such a project. How many Latvian companies will benefit from the construction of a plant in Lithuania? This is contrasted with the benefits that would come from investing in renewables. Such arguments are essential, as public opposition to the project needs to be expanded beyond those who are just concerned about the environmental impact.

Taking to the streets 

The Latvian Greens also organised more direct action to raise public attention. In order to get people talking about the safety concerns, they drove around Riga with a truck that contained barrels leaking bright green liquid, to mimic nuclear waste, a problem that nuclear proponents have yet to resolve. The action drew the attention of the people on the streets of Riga, and even the State Security Chief called the organisers to ask what they were doing!

The action itself was quite cheap, with the ‘toxic waste’ made from water and food dye, and the barrels costing as little as €3. The idea was the brainchild of Latvian Greens Co-Chair Viesturs Silenieks, who has a record of creating engaging public actions. The video of this event has been viewed thousands of times online, and is easy to repeat elsewhere.

The event itself was fun and engaging, and many Latvian Green members asked to participate next time it is organised. The next time is likely to be in Lithuania, where the Latvian Greens will run the same stunt to coincide with a conference on the issue.

What is most motivating about this issue is that there is a strong chance that the project will be defeated. The economic case in favour is very weak, especially as EU law requires all Member States to increase the amount of renewable energy they produce. If Latvia reaches these EU targets, then the nuclear power plant will be redundant due to its size.
The Latvian Greens are continuing to make the case against nuclear and for renewable energy and in particular are reaching out to the business community in making the economic argument against nuclear. If it is stopped in the Baltics, then the future of nuclear will look very bleak.


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