* Majority vote "No" in power plant referendum
* Project intended to reduce reliance on Russian energy
* Party leaders say Lithuania could still get nuclear plant
By Christian Lowe and Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS, Oct 15 Lithuanians rejected a plan to build
a nuclear plant to cut dependence on imports of Russian energy,
in a non-binding referendum that does not kill off the project
but leaves a question mark over its future.
Support for the plant in Lithuania, one of the European
Union states most dependent on imported energy, waned after the
Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan last year.
With results counted from all but a handful of Lithuania's
districts after Sunday's referendum, 62.74 percent voted "No",
while 34.01 percent were in favour.
Turnout was about 52 percent, just over the threshold to
make the referendum valid.
Lithuanian's Baltic neighbours Estonia and Lithuania, whose
energy firms were expected to help finance the power plant, said
they were still interested but that the referendum would make it
harder to get the project off the ground.
The referendum on Sunday was consultative, so Lithuania's
leaders are not obliged to scrap the power plant. The vote was
held alongside a parliamentary election which is likely to hand
power to an opposition coalition.
Japanese-U.S. joint venture Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy
was lined up to build the plant.
"NO HURRIED DECISIONS"
Leaders of the two opposition parties which did best in the
election said the project could not go ahead in the form it is
in now, but did not rule out proceeding once they had more
information, especially about financing.
"We are not anti-nuclear power. We are against this project
which was given to parliament for discussion very late before
the election," said Algirdas Butkevicius, head of the
second-placed Social Democrat party.
"We are rational people. We will talk. We will not take any
Andres Tropp, of Estonian energy firm Eesti Energia, said in
a statement sent to Reuters that it was up to the new government
in Lithuania whether it goes ahead with the project.
"As far as Eesti Energia is concerned then it is obvious
that the risks related to execution of the project have raised
significantly and we shall definitely take it into account,"
The office of the Latvian prime minister's office noted in a
statement that the vote was not binding, but said: "At this
moment we can predict it would make the progress of the
... project more difficult."
The Lithuanian government that was voted out in Sunday's
election had proposed building the new plant on the site of the
Soviet-built Ignalina plant in eastern Lithuania, that was shut
Lithuania's finance ministry projects the total cost of
building the plant at 6.8 billion euros. It says 4 billion euros
would come from loans, and the rest would be put up by the
contractor and energy firms in the Baltic states.
A spokesman for Hitachi, Terry Kubo, told Reuters the firm
expected more debate on the plant in Lithuania and was ready to
provide the new government which all necessary information.
"Hitachi remains committed to contributing to the energy
security of Lithuania with our technology, in response to its
request," Kubo said.