Bulgaria's Rulers Steady on Path of Reviving Belene NPP

Energy | September 8, 2013, Sunday // 14:32|  views

Ramadan Atalay, Member of the Parliament from Bulgaria's liberal, predominantly ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms party, file photo

Bulgaria's rulers will commission another feasibility study of the project to build a Russian-sponsored second nuclear power plant in the Danube town of Belene, and if it proves marketable, it will be realized.

The statement was made Sunday before Bulgaria's public radio by Ramadan Atalay, Member of the Parliament from the liberal, predominantly ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS.

He reiterated that the re-launch of the project is one of the measures of Bulgaria's new government aimed at rescuing the Bulgarian energy sector.

Soon after it took office at the end of May 2013, Bulgaria's Socialist-led government of Prime Minister, Plamen Oresharski, endorsed by DPS, included in its plans a possible restart of the Belene NPP project.

Just one day ago, Sergei Stanishev, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the party of European Socialists (PES) and former PM, stated projects like the South Stream gas pipeline and the Belene NPP had the potential to give Bulgaria a much stronger position on the European map thanks to billions in investments in the Bulgarian economy and local job creation.

According to him, Belene is profitable for Bulgaria and will advance the nuclear energy sector.

However, Delyan Dobrev, former Energy Minister in the Cabinet of the now-opposition center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party, GERB, keeps insisting Belene will have the staggering cost of BGN 20 B, which would be unbearable for the country.

He is firm the project cannot be realized and any attempts to revive it would just trigger more losses.

Bulgaria's GERB government scrapped the Belene project in March 2012, declaring it economically unfeasible.

The pro-Belene BSP then launched a petition for a referendum on the Russian-Bulgarian project. The referendum took place on January 27, 2013.

Discussions on the abandoned project were renewed when Rosatom subsidiary Atomstroyexport upped its claim against NEK to EUR 1 B, though Rosatom said it was open for an out-of-court settlement of the arbitration suit.

In the middle of July 2012, Russia's state nuclear company Atomstroyexport took Bulgaria's NEK to the arbitration court for EUR 58 M over delayed payments for its work on two nuclear reactors.

The next day the Bulgarian company said it was ready to strike back with a EUR 61 M counter claim against Atomstroyexport over delayed payments for purchases of old equipment for the plant, worth about EUR 300 M.

Three months later, on September 11, Rosatom Corp., Russia's state-run nuclear company, increased the claim to EUR 1 B.

Atomstroyexport said it increased the claim to cover construction work and production costs of the two canceled nuclear reactors.

After it was first started in the 1980s, the construction of Bulgaria's second nuclear power plant at Belene on the Danube was stopped in the early 1990s over lack of money and environmental protests.

After selecting the Russian company Atomstroyexport to build a two 1000-MW reactors at Belene and signing a deal for the construction, allegedly for the price of EUR 3.997 B, with the Russians during Putin's visit to Sofia in January 2008, in September 2008, former Prime Minister Stanishev gave a formal restart of the building of Belene. At the end of 2008, German energy giant RWE was selected as a strategic foreign investor for the plant.

The Belene NPP has been de facto frozen since the fall of 2009 when RWE, which was supposed to provide EUR 2 B in exchange for a 49% stake, pulled out.

Shortly afterwards BNP Paribas SA, France's largest bank by market value, which was hired by the previous Socialist government to help fund the construction of Belene, ditched the project in February 2010.

RWE's departure from Bulgaria's new Belene nuclear plant put extra pressure on GERB's government to find new shareholders while it redefined the scope of investment it needs.

NEK initially held a 51% stake in the scheme and PM, Boyko Borisov's Cabinet planned to cut its shares in the project to 20-30%, which will still allow the country to keep its blocking quota.

On January 27, 2013, Bulgarians had to answer in the referendum the following question: "Should nuclear energy be developed in Bulgaria through the construction of new nuclear power units?"

Under the law, the referendum results imposed for the Belene NPP to be put back on the Parliament's agenda, as voter turnout slightly exceeded 20%. 61% of the voters said "yes" to the construction of a new NPP; 39% cast a "no" ballot.

On February 27, 2013, Bulgaria's Parliament confirmed the country's decision to abandon the Belene NPP project.

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Tags: Bulgarian Socialist Party, parliament, Referendum, consultant, HSBC, NEK, BEH, GERB, NPP, Nuclear Power Plant, Rosatom, Atomstroyexport, Russia, ASE, International Arbitration Court in Paris, Arbitration, arbitration court, temporary, RWE, PES, feasibility study, GERB, GERB government, Socialist-led government, Plamen Oresharski, NPP, Nuclear Power Plant, Belene, South Stream gas pipeline, Bulgarian Socialist Party, Sergei Stanishev, DPS, ethnic Turkish party Movement for Rights and Freedoms, Member of the Parliament, Ramadan Atalay, Delyan Dobrev, BSP


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