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News 15 Jul 16

Bulgaria Deputy PM Backs Restarting Belene Project

After being ordered to pay compensation of over half a billion euros to Russia’s Atomstroyexport for nuclear equipment, Bulgarian politicians are considering restarting the abandoned nuclear power project in Belene. 

Mariya Cheresheva
The Belene power plant. Photo: Atomstroyeksport

Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister, Tomislav Donchev, on Thursday said privatizing the half-completed nuclear power project at Belene was the most economically viable option - and claimed investors had expressed interest in buying the plant.

“If the project could bring unquestionable economic benefit, then let somebody come … buy it, finish it and start selling energy,” Donchev said on TV. Bulgaria is not “prejudiced” about who that investor might be, he added.

Donchev’s opinion matches that of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, which was behind the revival of the project in 2008.

On Wednesday, the Socialists also proposed restarting the strategic project, initially launched by the former communist regime in the 1980s, to the other groups in parliament.

Construction of Bulgaria's second nuclear power plant on the Danube river was stopped in the early 1990s because of lack of money and environmental protests.

After selecting the Russian company Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of Rosatom, to build two 1000-MW reactors at Belene and signing a deal for the construction in 2008, former prime minister Sergey Stanishev gave a formal restart to the building of Belene.

Four years later, the first government of current Prime Minister Boyko Borissov abandoned the project due to lack of funds and interest on the part of investors.

Russian energy giant Rosatom, the mother company of Atomstroyeksport, took Bulgaria's National Electricity Co, NEK, to an arbitration court, seeking over 1.2 billion euros.

On June 16 a court in Geneva ruled that Bulgaria would have to pay over 550 million euros in compensation to the Russian firm for the production of the two  reactors.

Donchev recalled that one of the reactors is complete while the other one is almost finshed.

Since the court decision, Bulgaria has been fined over 168,000 euros for each day it delays payment.

The idea of restarting the project contradicts initial government plans to sell off the equipment, possibly to India and Iran.

Borissov dismissed the option of completing the Belene project on June 20, explaining that building “a Russian reactor while Russia is under sanctions” could cause “additional problems”.

On July 12, he led a governmental delegation to Iran with the primary aim of pitching the Russian equipment to the authorities there who are developing a nuclear project with matching parameters.

But, as no commitments emerged from the bilateral meetings, the Bulgarian government seems more keen to sell the half-completed Belene project to a strategic investor.

“There is still a way to get out of the situation with minimum damages,” Donchev claimed.

His party’s coalition partners from the Patriotic Front and the Reformist Bloc, however, have both dismissed bringing Belene back to life.

Valeri Simeonov, one of the leaders of the “Patriots”, on Thursday said the Belene project had generated only losses to the country and no new nuclear capacities were needed.

The Prime Minister's ruling GERB party "should know that if they start building Belene, this would be political and economic suicide”, Martin Dimitrov, from the Reformist Bloc, told MPs on Wednesday.



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