Bulgaria’s Minister of Energy, Temenujka Petkova, told Nova on 5 March that Bulgaria is preparing to issue an invitation to select a strategic investor for construction of the Belene nuclear power plant.

She said there is serious investor interest in the realisation of the project from China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). Interest had also been expressed by France’s Framatome, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, General Electric (USA) and Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom.

Bulgaria is seeking to build the Belene plant for less than €10 billion ($10.2bn) in under ten years. Strategic investors have been asked to maximise the use of the equipment that has already been delivered to Bulgaria, and to continue working under the previously approved project. The plant should also be built under market conditions, without any state guarantees or guarantees relating to sales of electricity produced.

Initially, the 2000MWe Belene nuclear plant was to be built with the participation of Russia after Atomstroyexport (part of Rosatom) won an international tender in 2006 for the design, construction and commissioning of two VVER-1000 reactors. However, the project was cancelled in 2012, after a change of government.

The project was revived, again, in June 2018 after a series of arbitration procedures, which saw Bulgaria pay €601.6 million ($691.5m) in compensation to Atomstroyexport for the equipment already manufactured. These parts are now stored at the construction site.

"Currently, we have equipment that is paid for, a licensed site and we own a large part of the documents related to the licensing of this project, so there are all prerequisites which can enable this project to be realised based on market principles,” Petkova said. “This site is built for a nuclear power plant and has all the necessary infrastructure," she added, noting that the site also has the lowest risk of earthquakes across the country.

"The situation today is very different from what happened in 2012 when it was decided to stop the project, and there was also this financial and economic crisis that did not allow us to find the best financial model for implementation of the project," Petkova said. Bulgaria has said construction of the plant could begin in 2020-2021.

Rosatom director general Alexei Likhachev said on 6 March that, according to estimates, the initial investment in the construction of Belene NPP in Bulgaria will be about €1.5 billion. However, "the amount to bring complete the facility will be many times more”. He said that the whole point of future negotiations would be to decide on how financing can be raised for the project.  Likhachev said he could not imagine the completion of the Belene station without the serious involvement of Rosatom.

On 4 March, the first deputy head of the Russian government’s office, Sergei Prikhodko told Tass that  Rosatom could complete the work in a short time  "Today we see the constructive attitude of the current Bulgarian government, which intends to restart the Belene NPP. The Russian company is ready to participate in competitive procedures along with other companies," he said.

"The main technological equipment of the nuclear island NPP has already been produced and is located in Bulgaria. Russian specialists have completed a large amount of design and licensing work. All this speaks in favour of the fact that Rosatom is able to ensure the completion of the station in a short time and act as a partner for the life cycle NPP."  He added that “as soon as the necessary decisions are made in Sofia, it will be possible to begin substantive consultations, including on the financial and economic model of the project and possible forms of its support.”

Informed industry sources told NEI that the most likely outcome would be Russian construction with Chinese financing.