Bulgarian government to seek mandate for talks with investors over nuclear plant

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s government will ask parliament to give it the authority to negotiate with investors to build the Belene nuclear power project on the Danube River, the prime minister said on Saturday.

The Black Sea state initially canceled the project, estimated to cost about 10 billion euros, 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, which would have supplied some equipment.

The current government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, however, is renewing the search for private investors to build the plant after an arbitration court ruled in 2016 that Bulgaria must pay more than 600 million euros ($717 million) in compensation to Russian state nuclear company Rosatom due to the cancellation.

It will be the country’s second nuclear power station after the Kozloduy plant, which is also on the Danube.

In July Bulgaria will host an annual summit of leaders from 16 central and eastern European countries and China, a group dubbed “16+1” by Beijing. China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) has already expressed an interest in investing in the 2,000 megawatt nuclear power project.

“The moratorium (should) end to allow parliament to give me a mandate to talk to investors before the meeting in July,” Borissov said, adding Bulgaria had already spent 3 billion levs ($1.83 billion) on the project.

Parliament said in March that the Energy Ministry should draw up proposals by the end of June on whether to proceed with or scrap plans for the Belene project.

A month earlier Borissov suggested Belene be built as a pan-Balkan project to boost energy security and connectivity and urged its neighbors in the region to consider the option.

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.

($1 = 0.8374 euros)

($1 = 1.6371 leva)

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Hugh Lawson