Belene Nuclear Power Plant – Bulgaria’s Ongoing Nightmare

28 years after the start of the project there is still no power coming ( out of Belene NPP

The comedy – or was it tragedy? – about Bulgaria’s planned second nuclear power plant near the sleepy town of Belene goes into the next round. 28 years after the start with billions of  Euros invested, the end of the story is still shrouded in the mists of Bulgarian politics.

(Image Copyright JB Photography)

There are few topics of common interest and subject to a general discussion in Bulgaria: politics, football and Belene Nuclear Power Plant. Despite the fact that Bulgaria’s success rate on those three fronts is disputable, it can be said that these areas of shared interest are among the few thin threads that contribute for the Bulgarian society’s cohesion.

“In respect of Belene and everything concerning the past of this Project, I believe it is high time for charges to be issued,” said Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. In his words, two years passed after evidence had been provided to court and legal cases had been instigated. According to him, there is enough evidence that high-ranking Bulgarian officials have criminally mismanaged the Belene NPP project since its relaunch in 2006 and offenders should be named and arrested soon.

“There are politicians in Bulgaria who just keep talking to hide what damage they have done. They have done nothing but spending 500 million Euro just to clear the building ground, i.e. they have drained funds,” Borissov said.

Bulgaria recently has requested Russia for another three-month postponement of the sealing of the contract on the Belene NPP project, explaining that it has been waiting for the outcome of a study on the financial aspects commissioned to HSBC.

On 24 June, Russia’s Rosatom president Sergey Kirienko was quoted as saying that Russia has not received Bulgaria’s proposal for a three month freeze of talks.

Bulgaria has to sign a contract for constructing Belene NPP by the deadline of  1July in accordance with annex 12, or face a lawsuit by the Russian party for breach of contract. The  annex 12 to the main contract between Bulgaria and Russia on the construction of two 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors at Belene will expire at the end of June.

Asked whether Bulgaria faces the risk of being taken to arbitration by the Russian contractor Rosatom as it is likely to miss the 1 July deadline for signing a final contract, Economy, Energy and Tourism Minister Traycho Traikov said: “The arbitration is not a risk, it is an option.”

In Boyko Borissov’s view, the Belene NPP has no clear price yet and no safety guarantees in compliance with the latest European requirements. In his words, the project’s implementation can not be launched without the approval of “all partners in Brussels.”

In a separate statement, one of Bulgaria’s independent candidates for president Meglena Kouneva hints that Bulgaria is dependent on gas supplies from Russia and additional nuclear power dependency will be a problem.

The Civil Initiative “No-To-Belene” quotes in a humorous manner Boyko Borissov as saying on his weekend visit to the town of Dobrich that “Nowadays it sounds like a joke to comment on a construction of a nuclear power plant in Europe.” The website of the Anti-Belene Initiative reminds that at the peak of the Fukushima crisis, the Bulgarian Prime Minister had preached that the Belene NPP would save Bulgaria’s economy.

Three days before  1 July, it is unclear what will happen with the project. Is the real apple of discord the price for the construction of the 2000MW Belene NPP? Russia insists on 6.3 billion Euro while the Borisov Cabinet sets the price tag to 5 billion.

After it was first started in the 1980s, the construction of Bulgaria’s second nuclear power plant at Belene was stopped in the early 1990s over lack of money and environmental protests. After selecting the Russian company Atomstroyexport to build two 1000MW reactors at Belene and signing a deal for the construction – allegedly worth four billion Euro – with the Russians in January 2008, the project was re-started. At the end of 2008, German energy giant RWE was selected as a strategic foreign investor for the plant.

But in fall 2009 construction at Belene ground to a halt again, when RWE pulled out of the project. RWE was supposed to provide two billion Euro for a 49% share.

In mid-March 2011, apparently acting on concerns caused by the situation in Fukushima after the devastating earthquake in Japan, the European Commission confirmed that it wants to reexamine the Belene NPP project – once Bulgaria finds an investor for it – even though it already approved it back in 2007.

Today everybody talks about Belene in Bulgaria. Everybody seems to have an opinion. However, Bulgaria’s Belene nuclear power plant dilemma has a long-term horizon and it is highly unlikely to find a resolution soon.

Note: Our own research shows that meanwhile the US company Westinghouse has signed an agreement with the Bulgarian Energy Holding over the life extension of the two reactors in Bulgaria’s existing nuclear power plant at Kozloduy. Even more interesting: the agreement also includes the option to build two more reactors in Kozloduy, thus rendering the whole Belene project practically obsolete!

(Sources: Atomstroyexport, Belene NPP, Middle East & Balkans News own research; 27 June 2011) / Image: JB Photography


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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