Bulgaria drops nuclear power plant plans

Bulgarian PM Borissov will discuss the issue in Brussels on Thursday (4 December). [Dnevnik]

Bulgaria has abandoned plans to build its second nuclear power plant based on Russian technology, an official announced today (28 March). Dnevnik, the EURACTIV partner in Bulgaria, reports.

Deputy Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov announced on national radio that the country would not go ahead with plans to build the Belene nuclear station near the River Danube.

Bulgaria depends on Russia for 89% of its petrol, 100% of natural gas and all of the nuclear fuel needed for its Kozloduy nuclear power station which has two functioning reactors.

It is presumed that the decision results from a telephone call between Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borrisov and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, held the previous day. The Russian government website only announced that energy projects have been discussed between the two leaders.

Besides Belene, Russia has interest in building the South Stream gas pipeline project and the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline on Bulgarian territory (see background). The oil pipeline project is reportedly on hold.

Goranov provided no details except to say that a Russian nuclear reactor commissioned for Belene would be installed at Kozloduy. He added that Bulgaria had to pay a final €100 million instalment for the reactor, and that the country would build a natural gas-powered electricity plant at the Belene site.

Borissov recently argued that since Bulgaria had already paid two-thirds of the reactor's price, the best solution was to pay the outstanding amount and to make use of the unit.

The decision may appear as surprising, because Britain's HSBC bank, the Bulgarian government consultant on the Belene project, had not yet announced its conclusions on the feasibility of the plant.

Roumen Ovcharov, an opposition MP and former energy minister in several Socialist governments, called the move "stupid", adding it would require a new licencing procedure for Kozloduy, and that the new reactor would become operational only in 2030.

"Some members of the government, and I think even the prime minister, understand that the Belene project is in Bulgaria's interest, but unfortunately in the cabinet there are people who get influenced by some embassies, including the American one," he added.

Dnevnik's internet site was overflowing with opinions welcoming the decision, although some commentators noted that Borissov has often changed his mind on many occasions.

Bulgaria has been heavily reliant on nuclear energy since the 1970s, when the Soviet-built Kozloduy nuclear power plant became operational. Under pressure from the EU during accession negotiations, the country agreed to close down four of the plant's six units - with EU support.

Before its last units were shut down, Kozloduy produced 44% of the country's electricity, 20% of which was exported. This gave Bulgaria a strategic position in the region, which it has now lost.

In this context, the Belene project became a priority under the previous government of Socialist Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev. After years of setbacks, Stanishev turned the first sod of the planned 2,000 megawatt Belene plant in September 2008.

However, new Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said he would not move on any major energy projects with Russian participation negotiated by previous governments without the green light of the country's Western partners. Besides Belene, the projects in question are the South Stream gas pipeline project and the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline.

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