VILNIUS, July 16 (Reuters) - Lithuania will hold a non-binding referendum on the centre-right government’s planned new nuclear power plant on the same day as a parliamentary election, in a move that could boost support for the opposition and derail the project with a big vote against.
Parliament’s decision on Monday to hold the vote puts energy issues at the centre of the election, with the opposition and government split on how to reduce country’s energy dependence on its former Soviet master, Russia.
Polls have showed public support for nuclear energy in Lithuania wane following the Fukushima disaster in 2011 in Japan, with opinion now roughly divided.
The government has proposed building the Visaginas plant on the site of the Ignalina plant in eastern Lithuania that was shut in 2009.
But the main opposition party in the current parliament, the Social Democrat Party, said the government should focus on renewable resources and renovating houses to save energy and rather than on a costly nuclear power plant project.
“We should stop dreaming about nuclear power, benefits of which we might see or might not see in only 30 years,” Birute Vesaite, deputy chair of the party, told parliament.
Centre-left parties such as the Social Democrats lead the opinion polls before the parliamentary election.
Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, who opposed the referendum, said it was causing doubts about commitments made by his coalition government.
Parliament last month voted, with a narrrow margin, in favor of giving the government a go-ahead to work towards a final construction deal with U.S.-Japanese alliance Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy for the 1,350 MW ABWR reactor.
In 2011, Lithuania imported 65 percent of its electricity, mostly from Russia, making it the European Union member most dependent on power imports.
Lawmakers voted 62-39 to hold the referendum on Oct. 14, the parliament press office said. Eighteen abstained.
Reporting via Oslo Newsroom; Editing by Alison Williams