Latgale locals worried over storage of radioactive waste near Lithuanian border

Latgale locals are worried about a plan to set up a storage facility of radioactive waste on the Lithuanian side of the border, just 30 kilometers away from Daugavpils, Latvia's second city. The facility is to store waste from the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, which was closed ten years ago with the matter of storing waste still unsolved. Local residents and leaders have been sounding the alarm. 

The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant was opened 1983. Using reactors similar to that of Chernobyl, it was closed just 25 years later, in 2009, as Lithuania had joined the EU with the condition that it would be.

It is to be fully dismantled by 2038, and this March a tender was opened for creating a storage facility right on the border between Latvia and Lithuania. 

This is worrisome news for the locals of Demenes parish, which borders Lithuania and is within viewing distance of the plant's chimneys. 

"Of course we're against it. Why do we need that? There'll be radiation," a local told Latvian Radio.

"The children are ailing. People are dying like flies from the radiation. Let them take their radiation away from our borderland," another local said. 

Local leaders likewise oppose setting up the waste storage facility right on the border, such as Aleksandrs Aizbalts, a high-ranking official at the Daugavpils Municipal Council. "What could our position be? Of course we view it in negative terms," he said.

Meanwhile Daugavpils mayor Andrejs Elksniņš called for discussing the matter on a government level in order to prevent the creation of a waste facility such as this so close to the Latvian border. He said two letter have been sent to the responsible ministry.

"All of us oppose setting up such a facility in the vicinity of 25 to 30 kilometers away from the city. We've sent letters to the Environment Ministry and the Interior Ministry so that Latvia's position is clear and unswerving when it comes to international relations," said Elksniņš. 

Lithuania plans to set up the storage facility within four to five years. It would safeguard radioactive material of low- to middle activity. Viktor Ognerubov, the project manager of the planned storage space, told Latvian Radio all the necessary precautions would be taken when building the facility.

"For the most part the waste is metallic, and there is the cemented radioactive waste from when the power plant was active. This used fuel is stored in cemented 200-liter barrels, which in turn are stored inside special containers, also covered in cement. The final construction is these radioactive waste containers made of metal and concrete," said Ognerubov. 

It is planned to cover these containers with a two-meter layer of clay as well as three meters of soil, sand and stone. 

While properly stored waste is safer than an operational plant, experts say this is still not a good thing.

"Any potentially dangerous object, stored close to the border, is not a good thing. The Lithuanian government has acted as it sees fit. As concerns potential threat, it mostly remains on an emotional level. The construction will doubtless be supervised by the European Commission," said Juris Soms, an associated professor at Daugavpils University. 

About 100,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste from the Ignalina plant are to be stored within the facility. The cost is covered by the EU, and just the first stage of the project is to set it back about €50 million.

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