In east Lithuania, there was until 2009 a time bomb in the same level as Chernobyl. This bomb was called Ignalina, and had the world’s most powerful nuclear reactor – and the same design as Chernobyl. Travel Blog Europe has paid it a visit.
Ignalina was until 2009 a nuclear power plant and scared the kind of almost the whole of Europe. The nuclear power plant was the same model as Chernobyl, and maybe it was just a matter of time before it would explode?
In north-eastern Lithuania, there is a town called Visaginas. The city has about 25,000 inhabitants and 85% are Russians. Visaginas was built in 1975 but received its town charter first in 1995. This makes Visaginas to Lithuania’s youngest city.
This is the story of the atomic town and Ignalina nuclear power plant.
Visaginas is founded
In 1975, this area deeply involved in the Soviet system. A large part of the population consisted of Russians who were unswervingly loyal to communism and the real power in Moscow.
Moscow wanted to appease the countrymen with work and modernism and decided to build a Soviet model city in the area that also was adapted to house a huge nuclear power plant.
Visaginas was designed entirely for the workers at the nuclear power plant. The town plan included a part of the city that from the air would have the shape of a butterfly. The plan was never realized to the end, but they built and divided the city into three districts. During the construction 4 villages were erased.
The city’s name
The name Visaginas have been added later. Originally, the town was named to Sniečkus, the first secretary of the Lithuanian Communist Party. Antanas Sniečkus was the one who took the initiative for the mass deportation of Lithuanian people in 1941, including his own brother, who died in Siberia. Sniečkus himself died in 1974.
The name Snieckus was allowed to remain until 1992 when they instead adopted the name Visaginas after the largest of the four villages that were destroyed during construction.
Lithuania’s proudest city
The pride of the hyper-modern and well-planned city with nuclear power plant knew no bounds. Here was the future. During the Ignalina nuclear power plant busiest days, over 5.000 people worked here. Another 1,500 small businesses were active to supply the power plant in Visaginas. The workers lived in the modern high-rises, which makes ordinary apartment building areas to look like a sweet dream.
Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant
The Ignalina nuclear power plant was located three kilometers from the city. Work on the basic construction began in 1974, and four years later started the construction of the first reactor. This reactor model was the world’s strongest and was able to produce 1500 megawatts – something that is hard to beat even today.
In 1983, the staff noted that reactor 1 had the same problem with the fuel rods that would lead to the Chernobyl accident. The problem was addressed, but any action did not occur.
In 1986 the second reactor was finished and Ignalina was now extremely important for the power supply in the Baltic States and Belarus. 90 percent of Lithuania’s supply of electricity came from Ignalina.
The Chernobyl disaster
But then something happened… The Chernobyl accident.
Suddenly was not nuclear power, the savior they had hoped for. Commissioning of Unit 2 of Ignalina was delayed by a year. The only difference with the damaged reactor of Chernobyl was that Ignalina’s model was 500 megawatts stronger. A possible accident would, therefore, lead to even greater emissions of radioactivity.
Ignalina’s future after Chernobyl
After the terrible accident at Chernobyl, a couple of actions took place. The Soviets did not want to be responsible once again for a nuclear disaster. The reactors strength was reduced to 1,360 megawatts and various structural improvements were made, among other things, with the support of Sweden. The planned construction of what would become unit 3 and 4 was rejected. Whats already had been built they destroyed.
Ignalina must be closed
However, Ignalina had an enormous impact on Lithuania’s power supply and among the population, there was no support. They feared that energy prices would increase by 30%. A closing would also cost the loss of 2,500 jobs, and Lithuania would become more dependent upon imported electricity from Russia and Ukraine.
On December 31, 2004, reactor 1 closed. On December 31, 2009, also reactor 2 was closed.