Lithuania gets nuclear power plans back on track

VILNIUS, June 1 (Reuters) – Lithuania has received two bids from Japanese and U.S. companies to build a nuclear power plant, the government said on Wednesday, getting the Baltic state’s plans for a reactor back on track after a setback last year.

Lithuania, seeking to lessen its dependence on Russian energy supplies, wants to replace the Soviet-era Ignalina plant, closed at the end of 2009. A tender last year failed after the sole bidder, South Korea’s KEPCO, dropped out. The Energy Ministry said in a statement the new bids were from an alliance of Japan’s Hitachi Ltd and General Electric Co, and from Westinghouse, a U.S.-based unit of Japan’s Toshiba.

“We have received two serious proposals… It’s a very significant step forward…,” Lithuania Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius told journalists.

Arvydas Sekmokas, the energy minister, added the government planned to select the strategic investor this summer and to draft a concession agreement for signing by end-2011.

“We plan that the new nuclear power plant should come online in 2020, while the first concrete should be poured in 2014,” he added.

The maximum capacity of the plant could be 3,400 megawatts. Lithuanian officials have also spoken earlier about the possibility of build two reactors with 2,200 MW total capacity.

Another government official told Reuters the winner was expected to finance the project, partly in exchange for shares and electricity it can sell on the market.

“But there is still a long road ahead before we can sign anything,” he added.

Sekmokas said price of electricity to be generated at the new plant should be reflected in the concession agreement.

The government has said the strategic investor could be offered a stake of up to 51 percent in a new plant, while the government itself should have at least 34 percent.

Lithuania’s prime minister said the agreement with a strategic investor would have to be approved by the parliament, while it would be discussed with regional partners beforehand.

The Energy Ministry said the proposals were to be discussed with Latvia, Estonia and Poland, as well as the European Commission.

Poland has its own plans to develop nuclear energy.

GE Hitachi, a venture of General Electric and Hitachi, is competing with Westinghouse, and France’s Areva to provide technology for Poland’s first nuclear plant.