Bulgaria Kozloduy asks IAEA to check nuclear fuel

SOFIA, July 17 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's sole nuclear power plant, Kozloduy, will invite the U.N. nuclear watchdog IAEA to check the quality of its fuel in a bid to disprove accusations it uses dangerous recycled material, officials said on Thursday.

Kozloduy's executive director Ivan Genov said the plant was the target of a campaign aiming at damaging the future of nuclear energy in Bulgaria.

"For weeks, Kozloduy has been discredited by a campaign, which started with rumours about a radiation cloud," Genov told a news conference.

Last month, a persistent rumour in Internet chat rooms and blogs about an alleged major radiation incident at Kozloduy scared Bulgarians. The government has denied the rumour and launched a criminal investigation to find those who spread it.

Earlier this week, Georgi Kotev, a nuclear scientist and long-term Kozloduy employee, accused the plant in his web blog and several media interviews of using second-hand fuel.

"These claims are absurd," Genov said.

Bulgaria imports all of its uranium fuel for Kozloduy from Russia, the plant says.

The 2,000 megawatt Kozloduy, which accounts for over 35 percent of Bulgaria's power production, will ask the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to check the fuel it uses to prove its image is clean.

Bulgaria is among the European Union member countries that believe atomic energy is part of the solution to climate change, as proponents say it emits almost no greenhouse gases.

The country permanently shut four older Soviet reactors at Kozloduy in the past several years as a condition for joining the EU. As a result, it lost its position of a major power exporter in the Balkans.

Kozloduy, on the Danube, now has two remaining reactors.

Sofia plans a second 2,000 MW nuclear power plant on the Danube in Belene to restore its electricity exporting position and meet growing domestic demand.

Opinion polls show most Bulgarians support nuclear energy. Several green groups and parties oppose the Belene plan. (Reporting by Irina Ivanova, editing by Anthony Barker)