Bulgaria’s Nuclear Controversy

 Is Belene Nuclear Power Plant stuck in a dead-end forever?

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov stated that the future of the Bulgarian nuclear energy plants would be determined by the criteria of the European Commission. Nonetheless, Bulgarian Parliament passed the Energy Strategy Year 2020 envisaging an extra 2000 megawatt capacities in the nuclear energy sector.

Translated in plain terms, this not only means a service extension of units 5 and 6 of Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) beyond 2017 and 2019 respectively.  The projected 2000 megawatt of additional output also raises another serious question: whether to build two new reactors in Kozloduy or to finish construction in Belene!

“Any commitment for Belene NPP will be undertaken only after stress-tests required by the European Commission,” said Energy, Economy and Tourism Minister Traycho Traykov on 25 May, after a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shmatko in Brussels. “The project to build a second Nuclear Power Plant, in the Danube town of Belene in Bulgaria, does not need EU stress-tests, ” counters the Head of the Agency for Nuclear regulation, Sergey Tsochev.

According to Minister Traykov a deadline in June for sealing a final agreement with Russian construction company Atomstroyexport for the implementation of Belene Project is unrealistic. In his view, because of the talks held by the previous government and the inflexibility of the Russians, RWE, the German investor that should have acquired 49% of the future nuclear power plant, finally withdrew.

Mr. Shmatko also announced after his rendezvous with Traykov in Brussels that the final round of the talks would be put off by 2-3 months. Both sides tentatively commented that in the meanwhile, British consultant HSBC would come with final financial figures.

In the opinion of Bulat Nigmulatin, former Deputy Energy Minister of Russia, Belene NPP poses serious economic risks both for Bulgaria and Russia. The proposal of Rosatom for a credit of 2 Billion Euro intended for the Belene Project is a jeopardy also for Russia. Nigamtulin sets as examples Moscow’s suicidal 3 Billion Dollar injection into Chinese Tyanvan NPP and a nuclear power plant in India also implemented by Rosatom’s subsidiary Atomstroyexport.

The economic efficiency of the nuclear reactors operating on Russian territory is 7% below the world average. Due to a backlog of unsolved issues, Nigmatulin predicts that Russia would be outpaced by China because Beijing relies on serial production, whereas Moscow modifies each reactor as a separate model.

Meanwhile, it became clear that 117 Million Euro mysteriously leaked from Belene NPP. This was one of the shocking facts published in the 2009 Audit Report of Velko Peev, Senior Auditor of the Bulgarian Energy Holding. It appears that not only the fog coming up from the nearby Danube is enveloping the Belene project.

The road sign pointing the direction of Belene NPP is rusty, even rustier is the padlock hanging on the rear entrance of the plant. With a few cranes decorating the landscape, a vast area fenced with barbed wire and the mix of slightly unkempt and brandnew buildings the view is almost surreal. However, this is a natural contrast so typical of the land of Bulgaria, in which contrasts reign everywhere. A Neverland as one may be tempted to say….

(Middle East & Balkans News, 14 June 2011)


About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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