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Last Updated: Monday, 27 February 2006, 23:10 GMT
Baltic states agree nuclear plant
By Laura Sheeter
BBC Baltic correspondent, Riga

Ignalina nuclear reactor
Ignalina currently provides most of Lithuania's electricity
The three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have signed an agreement to build a new nuclear power plant in Lithuania.

Their prime ministers said they wanted the Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian state-owned energy companies each to take an equal share in the project.

At present the Soviet-built Ignalina nuclear power plant generates more than 70% of Lithuania's electricity.

It also supplies Estonia and Latvia with power.

But as part of the deal which allowed Lithuania to join the European Union in 2004, Ignalina has to be closed down.

That process will be complete by the end of 2009 - leaving the Baltic states reliant on Russian gas for almost all of their power.

For countries which only gained independence from the Soviet Union 15 years ago, that has never been a popular prospect.

And since the row between Ukraine and Russia which disrupted gas supplies to several European countries, there has been increasing political pressure on the Baltic leaders to find alternative sources of power.

The agreement that the three prime ministers have signed also commits them to draw-up a pan-Baltic energy policy by the end of this year and to push for the development of a joint EU policy, which they hope would make them less vulnerable to any rise in the price of gas.

However, it is on a new, large nuclear power plant that most hopes are pinned.

But with few details as yet of how they will fund it, or even a firm decision on where it will be built, the Baltic states may face a gap between the closure of Ignalina and the opening of any new nuclear plant when they will have no choice but to rely on imported gas from Russia.

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