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Energy-Poor Albania Wants Nuclear Power Plant, Neighboring Montenegro Opposes

Energy-Poor Albania Wants Nuclear Power Plant, Neighboring Montenegro Opposes

The good news?

According to Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Albania has postponed its intention to build a nuclear power plant (NPP) in the Shkoder region near Albania’s border with Montenegro, until all issues concerning its potential impact on the environment and territory are fully assessed.

The city of Shkoder is located near a lake of the same name, whose waters are divided between Albania and Montenegro.

On 26 January Berisha said after meeting with Montenegrin Prime Minister Igor Luksic, "Nuclear energy is the purest and cheapest, but the Fukushima nuclear plant case has imposed the need to revise this position," adding that the region around Lake Skoder, which was envisaged as a site for a nuclear plant, "is susceptible to tectonic changes" before concluding that the project would be postponed "until science gives its opinion and solves the existing dilemmas."

On the positive side?

Berisha and Luksic concluded an agreement on a highway connecting Plav and Podgorica, which will transit Albania.

But that’s not good enough for Montenegrin Deputy Tourism and Environment Minister Sinisa Stankovic, who in an interview with Radio Televizija Crne Gore noted that, "international documents bind countries which intend to build plants, which could in any way threaten the environment in a cross-border area, to secure the agreement of all potentially threatened states. Montenegro has said that it does not want to build nuclear plants on its territory, and logically, not in its neighborhood either. Albania does not have an interest to go into this without informing Montenegro, as it could have some damage rather than benefit from this."

The $5.3 billion, 1,500 megawatt Shkoder NPP has been on the drawing boards since 2009.

The state-owned national utility, Hrvatska elektroprivreda (Croatian Electricity Company, or HEP) would be in charge of construction works and the majority of the power is due to be supplied to Croatia. Further irritating Montenegrin authorities over the project, said they received no offer to take part in the project of building a nuclear power plant on the piece of the Skadar Lake's coastline falling within its territory.

Albania has been interested in developing nuclear power for a half-decade, as in December 2007 the government discussed constructing a NPP in Durres. Besides meeting Albania’s domestic energy demands, the plan foresaw electricity export to neighboring Balkan countries and Italy via an underwater cable, which would link the Italian and Albanian electricity networks.

What impelled the sudden interest? A drought that had lasted for months, causing Albania to endure energy shortages because of its effect on the country's hydroelectric power plants, its main source of electricity. Authorities had to ration electricity to an average of four hours per day, introduce power cuts for consumers and state institutions and order many companies to work at night when power consumption was lower.

The previous month Berisha said at an investment conference on 11 November 2007, "Our main goal is to make Albania an energy superpower in the region," adding that he instructed lawyers to prepare a legal framework for the introduction of nuclear energy in Albania before concluding, "I am convinced that nuclear energy is the most stable and the cleanest sort of energy."

Berisha’s rampant enthusiasm for nuclear power was not shared by Albanian Power Corp. head Gjergj Bojaxhi, who observed, “Our company lacks the human capital necessary for the management of such a venture. For such a project to be considered feasible, a foreign company would have to step in.”

Albania’s interest in nuclear power quickened when in April 2009 Croatian officials confirmed that an agreement was concluded with Albania for the construction of a joint nuclear facility near the Montenegrin border. Croatian Economy Ministry spokesman Tomislav Mazal told Podgorica television station Vijesti that the two governments had formed a working group of five experts each tasked with the technical implementation of this major project. First U.S. nuclear firm Westinghouse and then Italian utility Enel were touted as possible partners for the construction and operation of an Albanian NPP. Zana Gonxholi, an economic adviser to the Albanian government, added that a Franco-Swiss consortium had prepared a plan for a nuclear plant at Drac on the north coast.
Furthering the interest, in January 2010 Albania's government approved the creation of the Agjencia Kombetare Berthamore (National Atomic Agency) to supervise the development of nuclear projects. Albanian Nuclear Energy Program coordinator Milo Kuneshka said, "Producing nuclear energy in Albania is a real prospect, although we are in the early phase of the process. Our first focus is to establish the legal framework, at the same time working on other plans to expedite the process."

Heightening Montenegrin concerns, on 14 - 15 July 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano visited Albania, meeting with top government officials to discuss Albania's ongoing cooperation with the IAEA in the fields of technical assistance, nuclear safety and security.

So, why is Montenegro throwing such a hissy fit over the proposed Albanian NPP?
For a start, Montenegro, home to just 625,000 people, for over 20 years has assiduously sought to be regarded as a ‘green state” protecting the environment, declaring itself an "ecological state" in 1990 and banning construction of nuclear facilities five years later. Now Podgorica is promoting the appeal of its pristine landscapes to make tourism a pillar of its economy, a scenario which hardly includes “nuclear tourism.”

And the future?

Cash-poor Albania has positioned itself as being "open to partnership" with any government interested in its NPP, as Tirana has made it clear that it does not have the money to launch the project alone.

Accordingly, Montenegro’s pristine landscapes may yet remain pristine for awhile longer.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

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