The Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania has been forced to shut down completely following the decision by the State Nuclear Safety Inspectorate to withhold a new operating licence for the plant. The temporary closure will force the curtailing of exports of electricity to neighbouring Belarus.

The licence was withheld because of problems over documentation. The Safety Inspectorate said that it would take one month to complete the certification, during which time the plant would not be permitted to operate.

Ignalina, 120 km from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, accounts for 77 per cent of the country’s total energy output. However, officials claim the country has overcapacity even without Ignalina. The nuclear plant comprises two Russian RBMK reactors of a type similar to those at Chernobyl in Ukraine.

As a result of the closure of the plant, only the second time in its history that it has not produced power, Lithuanian Energy has said it will be forced to dramatically scale back its exports of electricity to Belarus. It intends to export only sufficient to pay for the nuclear fuel which it receives from Belarus for the station. Last year Belarus imported 6 TWh from Lithuania out of a total Lithuanian production of 17.6 TWh.

Meanwhile long term plans to decommission Ignalina will depend on financial assistance from abroad, according to the Lithuanian government. Continued use of the plant is an obstacle to Lithuania’s bid to join the European Union. However early closure of the plant will cost the country $3.3-$3.9 billion according to a recent study.

Lithuania said last year that it would form an independent international commission to recommend about the safety and closure of the plant. Since 1991 it has invested $220 million to improve safety at the power station.