Elliott, Dave and Cook, Terry
Symbolic power: the future of nuclear energy in Lithuania.
Science as Culture, 13(3) pp. 373–400.
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EU accession states may have thrown off their Soviet past in political terms, but abandoning some of the Soviet era technologies is proving to be harder. Civil nuclear power is on the way out in most of Europe, but for some ex-Soviet countries this may present serious problems of economic, social and cultural transformation -- especially in countries like Lithuania, where nuclear power supplies the bulk of the electricity.
The issue has come to a head given the EU's insistence that several ex-Soviet states must agree to close their nuclear plant as a condition of EU entry. Lithuania is the accession country most wedded to and certainly most reliant on nuclear power. It has a nuclear plant which uses a technology (the RBMK, Chernobyl-type reactor) which the EU has insisted should be closed rapidly on safety grounds. This has proved an unpopular requirement in Lithuania for a variety of reasons. There are problem with ensuring continued energy supplies and replacing the lost employment and earning power.
However Lithuania also has a more general commitment to this technology as a symbol of national prowess and independence. During and immediately after the struggle for national independence in 1991, the country had a mass anti-nuclear movement. This has been analysed as a covert expression of nationalist and anti-Soviet feeling, given that most opposition to nuclear power evaporated after independence (Dawson 1996). Subsequently the EU ruled that Lithuania's Ignalina nuclear plant should be closed. Yet now it is widely seen as a national asset, a view reinforced by resentment about the EU apparently imposing an unwarranted closure policy.
This article will analyse how public and policy views on nuclear power have changed over time in Lithuania and how its symbolic meaning has changed during different phases of transformation of the Lithuanian society.
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