The Bulgarian government has cancelled the decision to build the Belene NPP as a project of national importance and the procedure for selecting a strategic investor. “With today’s decision, the government instructs the Minister of Energy to take action to terminate the procedure announced by the National Electric Company (NEK) to select a strategic investor for the construction of the Belene nuclear power plant and notify the candidates who submitted the relevant offers,” a government statement said.

The Belene project envisaged the construction of two Russian VVER-1000/V-466 reactors and preliminary site works began in 2008. Contracts for components including large forgings and I&C systems were signed with suppliers. The plant was to be built by Atomstroyexport (part of Rosatom) after Russia won an international tender in 2006 but the project was cancelled in 2012, after a change of government. It was revived again briefly in 2018 after a series of arbitration procedures, which saw Bulgaria pay €601.6m ($691.5m) in compensation to Atomstroyexport for the equipment already manufactured. These components are now stored at the construction site.

Conservation activities are carried out at the Belene site to ensure that the condition of the equipment is maintained in accordance with the requirements of the manufacturer ZIO-Podolsk. Such maintenance can only be performed by Atomstroyexport with the participation of ZIO-Podolsk specialists. The current technical management contract for the conservation of long-range equipment, signed in July 2021, ends on 31 December 2023. However, this can now be extended in line with the requirements of the Public Procurement Act. A similar derogation was approved in September 2022.

Bulgaria has only one operational NPP at Kozloduy with two Soviet-made VVER-1000 units which are due to be decommissioned in 2027 and 2029. In January, the former caretaker cabinet proposed an energy strategy plan for the construction of four new units to guarantee its energy security – two at Kozloduy and two at Belene. The caretaker government was reportedly due to negotiate the potential construction of plant at Belene with Electricite de France (EDF).

However, following a change of government after the April snap election, the new parliament in July authorised the Energy Minister to start negotiations on the potential sale to Ukraine of the mothballed Belene equipment including two reactors, four steam generators and four circulation pumps. The transaction should cover expenses previously incurred by Sofia in the amount of BGN1.2bn ($644m). Ukraine is considering using the equipment at its Khmelnitsky NPP.

Plans for a new reactor at Kozloduy have been underway since last year resulting in a memorandum of understanding with US Westinghouse Electric on the possible construction of an AP1000 reactor. In June, the two companies agreed to study the potential for Bulgarian industry and infrastructure at the Kozloduy site to support the AP1000 project.

Image: Construction site of the Belene nuclear power plant (courtesy of EPA)