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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05VILNIUS289 2005-03-18 14:31:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Vilnius
Cable title:  

AMBASSADOR VISITS LITHUANIA'S REACTOR, DISCUSSES

Tags:   ENRG PGOV PREL LH 
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1. Ambassador Mull made a day-long tour of northeastern
Lithuania on March 16. During his visit, he heard concerns
from local mayors about the lack of local employment
opportunities to absorb the large (3,500) Ignalina Nuclear
Power Plant (INPP) reactor workforce once the only remaining
functional INPP unit goes offline by 2009. The INPP Director
assured the Ambassador decommissioning was on track and all
nuclear materials were safeguarded, but inquired about the
possibility of USG assistance to facilitate decommissioning
efforts. The Ambassador met with a group of bright students
at Lithuania's leading business and vocational school who
impressed him with their fluent English, demonstrating the
transformation underway in even the most rural reaches of the
country. End Summary.



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INPP DECOMMISSIONING ON TRACK


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2. The latest chapter in the Ambassador's travel program
took him to the economically depressed northeastern Lithuania
on March 16. He got a tour d'horizon of current issues
facing the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP) by INPP
General Director Victor Shevaldin. INPP decommissioned its
first unit in 2004, and is preparing to shut down the second
one by 2009. As part of decommissioning, Shevaldin said INPP
had concluded a contract for the construction of a new spent
fuel facility. He anticipated that Unit 1's dismantling
would begin by 2012 following the transfer of all spent fuel
to the new facility. Assuring the Ambassador that INPP
management would make every effort to ensure that
decommissioning proceeds without incident, Shevaldin inquired
whether any USG assistance may be forthcoming to support this
effort. (Shevaldin said MOE had written to USDOE
approximately two weeks ago requesting USG assistance with
decommissioning. We understand that USDOE is unlikely to
support the GOL request).



3. Ambassador Mull complimented Shevaldin on his successful
management of INPP, observing that it is Lithuania's most
strategic site, supplying 80 percent of the country's
electricity needs. Shevaldin said INPP had not experienced
any problems with its supply of nuclear fuel from Russia, the
only country where it is available, noting that the fuel
arrives by rail in casks sealed with International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) seals, under the watchful eye of Russian
and Lithuanian security. Following their discussions,
Shevaldin took the Ambassador on a tour of INPP's impressive
facilities, where he was able to get a first-hand look at the
fuel assemblies, electricity-generating turbines, and the
control room outfitted with USDOE-funded computer security
upgrades.



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ALTERNATIVE WORK NEEDED FOR INPP WORKFORCE


--------------------------





4. The Ambassador had productive meetings with the mayors of
the two cities likely to suffer most from the reactors'
closure. Mayor Bronius Rope of Ignalina noted that there is
a paucity of local investments in his city. Following INPP
Unit II's closure, he would like to see alternative
employment opportunities created for the large 3,500-member
reactor workforce in alternative industries, such as rural
tourism and natural resources (wood, sand, clay and rubber).
He agreed with the Ambassador's observation of the importance
of reducing the gap between rural and urban Lithuania, noting
a lack of doctors, teachers and other specialists in rural
areas. In Visaginas, where 70 percent of the population
works at INPP, Mayor Vytautas Rackauskas noted similar
concerns, sharing with the Ambassador his vision of opening
an information technology-based industrial park in his city.
He informed the Ambassador that Visaginas draws strength from
its 46 nationalities, and he accepted the Ambassador's offer
to consider local officials for future USG-sponsored exchange
programs.



--------------------------



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BRIGHT STUDENTS EMBODY LITHUANIA'S TRANSFORMATION


--------------------------



--------------------------





5. Ambassador Mull fielded a wide range of questions from
students at the Visaginas Business and Technology Education
and Training Center, Lithuania's leading vocational training
school, that has used EU funding to build a strong base in
distance learning and technology-based education. In fluent
English, the students asked him about travel to the United
States, U.S.-Lithuanian exchange programs, potential
partnerships for their Center with U.S. institutions, foreign
investment, INPP decommissioning, and future U.S.-Lithuanian
cooperation. The Ambassador said he sets the highest
priority on attracting more U.S. investment to Lithuania, and
told the students he would try and help their Center find an
American partner. This forward-looking school is a bright
spot in an otherwise dreary rural landscape, and serves as an
example of how the country is transforming itself, even in
rural areas.



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COMMENT


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6. Ambassador Mull's visit to northeastern Lithuania is part
of a Mission effort to get out of Vilnius and reach out to
citizens in different parts of this diverse land, learn more
about their concerns, and show them that America cares about
them, too. This trip offered valuable insights into the
needs of two cities struggling to cope with the impending
closure of their largest employer. It also confirmed that
decommissioning at the Ignalina nuclear plant is proceeding
in an orderly manner.
Mull