Bulgaria seeks more EU funding for nuclear phase-out

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Bulgaria is negotiating with the European Commission to double its compensation for the early closure of four units of its Kozloduy nuclear power plant, the Bulgarian Economy Minister Peter Dimitrov said on 20 April.

The European Commission confirmed that talks are being held at a working level but insisted that amounts had not yet been discussed. The EU has allocated €550m to the decommissioning of the four units, Minister Dimitrov said, according to the Focus agency, of which €350m has already been absorbed. 

“We have never been against the prolongation of the support scheme (for decommissioning the Kozloduy NPP units),” Commission spokesperson Ferran Tarradellas told EURACTIV. But he added that such prolongations would need justifiying after 2009. 

Bulgarian officials often use the term “compensation” regarding the early closure under EU pressure of the nuclear units. However the European Commission prefers to consider the amounts as financial assistance for the decommissioning process rather than compensation. 

Before shutting down Kozloduy NPP units three and four, Bulgaria was an important exporter of electric power in the region. Now Bulgaria has lost this strategic position. As a result the Balkan region is experiencing a power deficit, especially in Albania. Bulgarian officials have repeatedly said the country has lost many billions of euros due to the early closure of its nuclear units. 

Bulgaria is planning to build a new nuclear power plant in conformity with Western standards, on the Danube island of Belene, but the project will take several years to become operational. The power shortage in the Balkan region has inspired some politicians and the nuclear lobby in Bulgaria to campaign to re-launch units three and four. Recent opinion polls show that many Bulgarians are in favour of re-starting units three and four of Kozloduy NPP. However the European Commission has made it plain that the conditions have not changed since the signature of the Accession Treaty. 

The decommissioning of nuclear power plants is a substantial global concern as well as an EU one. The Commission estimates that around a third of the EU’s 145 currently operational nuclear reactors will need to be decommissioned by 2025. Wide variations exist in the decommissioning strategies and funding methods of different EU countries. 

In a recent communication to the European Parliament and the Council, the Commission expresses concern that in some countries plant operators are providing insufficient funding for decommissioning. The Commission says this runs counter to the ‘polluter pays’ principle and could amount to market-distorting state aid. 

There are also concerns regarding the level of independent oversight for funds in several member states, which the Commission says could give rise to inaccurate cost estimates and the poor financial performance of funds. 

The Commission concludes that “these concerns could be better addressed by independent oversight of the decommissioning funds” rather than further EU or national legislation. But it adds that harmonised EU decommissioning strategies for future nuclear constructions should be “rigorously pursued”. 

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said on 1 February that Bulgaria should seek allies in the EU and convince them that units three and four of Kozloduy NPP are safe and can be made operational again. However he implied that such an effort would involve certain risks. ''I will never give up championing this cause with any means at my disposal that would not result in Bulgaria's total isolation in the EU," Stanishev added. 

Stanishev's main challenger in the parliamentary elections due in 2009, the mayor of Sofia 
Boyko Borissov, stated on 3 February that he would raise the case of re-opening units three and four after the European elections if some of the 'old' member states themselves change their energy policies.

Nationalist Party leader Ataka Volen Siderov stated on 7 January that his party would denounce Bulgaria's Accession Treaty for its referral to Kozlodui NPP. He explained this is a legitimate step since the decison to close the units had been taken under excessive pressure.

Commission spokesperson for energy Ferran Tarradellas said the closure of units three and four was part of Bulgaria's EU accession treaty obligations. "Agreements are made to be kept," Tarradellas stated. 

Back in 1992, at a G7 summit, it was decided that units one, two, three and four of Kozloduy nuclear power plant (NPP), along with Bohunice NPP in Slovakia and Ignalina NPP in Lithuania, had to be closed as they presented a high level of risk. 

In 1999, following strong pressure from Brussels ahead of the decision to open accession negotiations, Bulgaria agreed to close units one and two. In the meantime Bulgaria modernised units three and four and had been claiming they were safe. However, in October 2002 Sofia again bowed to pressure and agreed to close units three and four the night before the country's EU accession. This greatly aided the conclusion of the negotiations. 

Units five and six of the Russian-built Kozloduy NPP are considered safe and will continue to operate.

Slovakia and Lithuania joined the EU ahead of Bulgaria in 2004, and thus secured better conditions for the early closure of their nuclear reactors. Unlike Bulgaria, these countries are closing their units after their accession. This allowed them to obtain additional decommissioning funding at the EU summit in December 2005, when the EU budget was approved. In addition to the amounts already committed, Slovakia obtained another €375m and Lithuania €865m. 

At the same summit, under the British Presidency, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishhev asked for €280m in extra funding, without success. 

  • 14 June 2009: Parliamentary and European elections are due to take place in Bulgaria on the same day. The re-opening of units three and four could become an issue in the elections.

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