Bulgaria says China's CNNC interested in Belene nuclear plant

SOFIA, March 16 (Reuters) - China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) has expressed an interest in investing in Bulgaria’s 2,000 megawatt nuclear power project Belene, Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova said on Friday.

The Balkan country should come up with plans by the end of June on whether to proceed with or scrap plans to restart the project estimated to cost at least 10 billion euros ($12.32 billion).

Sofia cancelled the project in 2012 after failing to find foreign investors and bowing to U.S. and European Union pressure to limit the country’s energy dependence on Russia, contracted to build two 1,000 megawatt reactors at the Danube River.

But the government renewed the search for investors to build the plant after an arbitration court ruled in 2016 that Bulgaria had to pay more than 600 million euros in compensation to Russia for the cancellation.

“China’s state nuclear company CNNC has sent a letter, declaring its interest in the Belene nuclear project,” Petkova told parliament, adding that the letter was sent to state energy company NEK last month.

Critics of the project, first launched in 1981, argue that the investment does not justify the benefits and that the project has been a source of corrupt practices for decades.

Petkova pledged to come up with proposals on how to proceed with the project by the end of June. She said Bulgaria had already spent 3 billion levs on the project.

Last month Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov suggested Belene be built as a pan-Balkan project to boost energy security and connectivity and urged its neighbours in the region to consider the option. ($1 = 0.8116 euros) (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova Editing by Dasha Afanasieva)