October 15, 2012 / 8:40 AM / 7 years ago

Lithuanians send nuclear plant back to drawing board

* Majority vote “No” to power plant in referendum

* Project intended to reduce reliance on Russian energy

* Party leaders say project could still happen, but later By Christian Lowe and Andrius Sytas VILNIUS, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Lithuanians rejected a plan to build a nuclear plant to cut dependence on imports of Russian energy, in a referendum that does not kill off the project but leaves a big question mark over its future.

Support for the plant in Lithuania, one of the European Union states most dependent on imported energy, waned after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan last year.

With results counted from about three-quarters of Lithuania’s districts after Sunday’s referendum, 62.7 percent voted “No”, while 33.96 percent were in favour.

Turnout was about 52 percent, just over the threshold to make the referendum valid.

The referendum on Sunday was consultative, so Lithuania’s leaders are not obliged to scrap the power plant. The vote was held alongside a parliamentary election which is likely to hand power to an opposition coalition.

U.S.-Japanese joint venture Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy was lined up to build the plant, and Lithuania’s Baltic neighbours Latvia and Estonia were also involved in the planning.

Leaders of the two parties which did best in the election said the project could not go ahead in the form it is in now, but did not rule out building a nuclear plant.

“We are not anti-nuclear power. We are against this project which was given to parliament for discussion very late before the election,” said Algirdas Butkevicius, head of the second-placed Social Democrat party.

“We are rational people. We will talk. We will not take any hurried decisions.”

Viktor Uspaskich, whose Labour party had the strongest showing in the election, said the nuclear plant could be put to a vote again once there was a clearer picture on how it will be financed.

“As new circumstances appear, you can ask the opinion of the people once again. When there is a ready project, when most questions are answered, after two years it’s possible to ask people once again,” he said on Monday.

The government that was voted out in Sunday’s election had proposed building the new plant on the site of the Soviet-built Ignalina plant in eastern Lithuania, that was shut in 2009.

Lithuania’s finance ministry projects the total cost of building the plant at 6.8 billion euros. It says 4 billion euros would come from loans, and the rest would be put up by the contractor and energy firms in the Baltic states.

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