Pressure builds to revive Bulgaria’s Belene NPP

20 July 2016

Lawmakers of Bulgaria's biggest opposition party, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), have called on Parliament to reverse the 2012 decision to cancel the Belene NPP project. BSP MP Tasko Ermenkov told Bulgarian National Radio that the only way to solve the problems facing Bulgaria was to "complete Belene NPP with a strategic investor based on two prerequisites – reaching an understanding with Russia and, of course, finding an investor. There is no other option."

He was referring to the dilemma facing Bulgaria after an arbitration ruling forced it to pay €550m ($554m) to Russian company Atomstroyexport which had already manufactured key equipment for the  Belene project. In return for the payment, Bulgaria will receive the nuclear reactor and other equipment intended for unit 1 of the NPP.

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was reported to be considering selling the reactor to a third country, namely Iran, but Ermenkov dismissed the possibility. "The idea [that someone will] buy the equipment is quite exotic, since this equipment is not a second-hand car that can be sold anywhere."

However, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, told IRIB on 17 July: “Bulgaria was to buy two new power plants from Russia, however, later on they said that they could not afford to do so. Therefore, they are ready to negotiate with us over certain newly built facilities, which have not been used, at a suitable price. And we are studying this issue."

Ivan Hinovski, chairman of the Bulgarian Energy and Mining Forum, said in a statement on the organisation’s website Bulgaria could lose out financially if it sells the Russian-made reactor equipment. He said the equipment already received from ASE for Belene is worth “more than €1bn” and if Bulgaria sells it overseas, it could lose close to €500m. Mr Hinovski said Bulgaria will need new nuclear within 20 years and the equipment bought from ASE for Belene could be used for this.

Borisov said earlier this week that a renewal of Belene should not be ruled out if no buyer is found for the reactor. Belene was one of three projects that formed the so-called Grand Energy Slam - energy infrastructure that Bulgaria agreed to work on with Russia. The other two were an oil pipeline between the Black Sea port of Burgas and the Greek city of Alexandoupoli, and the South Stream gas pipeline supplying the Balkans and Central Europe via Bulgaria. The oil pipeline was cancelled in 2011 by the Bulgarian government, and Russia abandoned South Stream citing opposition from the EU.

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