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June 29, 2017

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Lithuanians say 'no' to nuclear plant plan

VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Lithuanians rejected a plan to build a nuclear plant to cut dependence on imports of Russian energy, in a referendum that does not kill off the project but leaves a big 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 about three-quarters of Lithuania's districts after Sunday's referendum, 62.7 percent voted "No," while 33.96 percent were in favor. Turnout was about 52 percent, just over the threshold to make the referendum valid.

The referendum on Sunday was consultative, so Lithuania's leaders are not obliged to scrap the power plant.

U.S.-Japanese joint venture Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy was lined up to build the plant, and Lithuania's Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia were also involved in the planning.

Leaders of the two 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 building a nuclear plant.

"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 hurried decisions."

Viktor Uspaskich, whose Labor party had the strongest showing in the election, said the nuclear plant could be put to a vote again once there was a clearer picture on how it will be financed.

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.

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