Bulgaria must work to restart Belene nuclear project: parliament

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria should resume its efforts to build the Belene nuclear power plant, the parliament decided on Thursday, ordering the energy minister to initiate talks with potential investors.

Cranes are seen in the background at the construction site of Bulgaria's second nuclear power plant in Belene, some 230 km (143 miles) north of Sofia, January 24, 2013. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Last month, the government asked parliament to lift a ban on developing the 2,000 megawatt (MW) project, estimated to cost 10 billion euros ($11.8 billion), that was canceled six years ago.

The lawmakers said Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova had until the end of October to present a proposal for choosing a strategic investor and on structuring and financing the project.

“We have the desire, intention and political will to seek a solution to the issue, related to the Belene nuclear power plant,” Petkova told parliament.

Chinese state nuclear company CNNC and Russia’s Rosatom have said they are interested in the project. Petkova has also invited France’s Framatome, majority controlled by EDF, to take part.

The Balkan country canceled the project on the Danube River in 2012, after failing to find investors and facing pressure from Washington and Brussels to limit its energy dependence on Russia, which was under contract to build the nuclear plant.

Sofia had to pay more than 620 million euros to Russia’s Rosatom for scrapping the project, but also received nuclear parts for two 1,000 megawatt reactors. As a result, the country has to decide what to do with the equipment.

Bulgaria says it has spent 3 billion levs ($1.8 billion) on Belene, which has a licensed site and equipment.

The government has said it does not want to commit more public funds, extend state guarantees for any loan or sign any long-term electricity supply deals for the plant.

Xie Jiajie, a senior official at CNNC, said at an energy conference in the Black Sea city of Varna on Wednesday that all nuclear projects had some form of state guarantees and talks had yet to be held with the Bulgarian government.

Vadim Titov, director of Rosatom Central Europe, told the same forum that the Russian company was ready to start talks with the Bulgarian authorities on reviving the project.

Stanislav Georgiev, a representative of Framatome for Bulgaria, said the French firm was interested in building Belene if the project was restarted, but did not want to be an investor.

The Black Sea state already has two 1,000 megawatt Soviet-made nuclear reactors at its Kozloduy plant, also on the Danube River, which provide about 30 percent of the nation’s power.

Dozens of Bulgarians protested outside parliament on Thursday against the government’s plans for Belene, saying the project’s benefits were not enough to justify the investment and said it had been a source of corrupt practices for decades.

($1 = 0.8472 euros)

($1 = 1.6549 leva)

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Edmund Blair