February 27, 2010 / 1:38 PM / 10 years ago

Lithuania ex-nuke town protests over heating bills

VILNIUS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Several thousand Lithuanians who live near a closed nuclear power station protested on Saturday against heating bills which have soared four-fold since the 2009 shut-down of the Ignalina plant, state radio reported.

Local trade unions said about 5,000 people had gathered to demonstrate in Visaginas in northeast Lithuania, some 170 km from the capital Vilnius, while state radio put the size of the crowd at 3,000.

The Soviet-era Ignalina power station, of a similar design as that found at Chernobyl — the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986 — was shut late last year under an agreement with the European Union.

“We want realistic heating prices ... When the heating bill is higher than a monthly wage, it’s not normal,” Rimantas Kumpis, the leader of the association of local trade unions, told state radio.

He said a four-room apartment’s monthly heating bill went up to 1,000 litas ($393.5) at the start of this year. The minimum monthly wage in Lithuanian stands at 800 litas.

The state price control commission said heating costs went up four-fold in Visaginas after the closure of Ignalina, a source of cheap heat for locals, but blamed ineffective central heating systems for people’s surging bills.

Ignalina’s shutdown has also resulted in regulated electricity prices going up by one-third for households across the country.

Lithuania has had to switch to more expensive fossil power plants after closing Ignalina, which had provided more than 70 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

The Baltic state was obliged under the terms of its 2004 accession to the European Union to close the Ignalina plant. (Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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