UPDATE 1-Bulgaria to start talks with Toshiba over new nuclear unit
(Adds detail, background)
SOFIA Dec 11 (Reuters) - State-run Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) won government approval on Wednesday to start talks with Japan's Toshiba Corp about the construction of a new reactor at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant.
The Socialist-led government said in a statement the Balkan country aimed to build one 1,000- or 1,200-megawatt water-pressurised AP 1000 III+ reactor produced by Westinghouse, the U.S. unit of Toshiba Corp.
Bulgaria is one of the few European Union counties pursuing new reactor projects in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011 and Germany's move to phase out nuclear power.
Energy Minister Dragomir Stoynev said the U.S. technology met the highest safety standards and would help Bulgaria diversify its nuclear energy base. The country operates two Soviet-made 1,000 megawatt units at Kozloduy on the Danube.
"Toshiba Corporation has already expressed investor interest for the new unit and we also see the Westinghouse reactor as answering all safety questions," Stoynev told reporters after a government meeting.
Stoynev said the talks with Toshiba were expected to conclude by September 2014, with the company providing about 30 percent of the financing for the new reactor, whose cost industry officials estimate at up to $8 billion.
Toshiba and Westinghouse were also expected to help secure the remaining 70 percent of the financing from U.S. Eximbank and Japan Bank for International Cooperation, he said.
The country's previous cabinet hired Westinghouse to prepare a proposal for the new reactor, having shelved plans to build a new, 2,000-MW nuclear power station at Belene costing 10 billion euros after failing to attract western investors.
Russia's Atomstroyexport, which Bulgaria had contracted to build Belene, has taken the country to an arbitration court, seeking 1 billion euros ($1.38 billion) in compensation for lost work on the suspended project. ($1 = 0.7261 euros) (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Jason Neely and Tom Pfeiffer)