Bulgaria's parliament has mandated the caretaker government to begin talks with the USA on a potential agreement for the construction of two additional reactors at the Kozloduy NPP using Westinghouse AP-1000 technology. The decision was passed by 112 votes to 45 with 39 abstentions in the 240-seat National Assembly.

The parliament requested the energy minister take all necessary steps by 1 March to start a process facilitating the construction of a new unit (7) at the Kozloduy NPP. The cabinet must also proceed with preparations for obtaining a licence and environmental impact assessment for the construction of an identical unit (8) at Kozloduy, although no timeline was stipulated.

Currently, Bulgaria is facing a political stalemate after four elections in two years failed to produce a permanent government. One of the parties which opposed the motion was the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which was subsequently asked by the president to try to put together a big enough coalition to form a government, after two other parties failed to do so. BSP’s Rumen Gechev said his parliamentary group did not oppose the new reactors at Kozloduy, but voted against because they believed the construction of Belene NPP should be completed first.

The Belene project in northern Bulgaria was to comprise two Russian VVER-1000 reactors, and initial site works began in 2008 when the BSP was in power. Contracts for components including large forgings and I&C systems were signed with suppliers, but the project faced financial problems and loss of political support when the BSP was voted out in 2009. The project was suspended in 2012. In 2019, the government advertised for a strategic investor for a project to build two large reactors, but said that neither funding guarantees nor long-term electricity sales contracts would be offered. Bulgaria had to pay compensation to Rosatom for the two reactors which had already been manufactured and delivered.

In January 2021 the Bulgarian government approved plans for Kozloduy 7, and held talks with Westinghouse about making maximum use of the Russian-supplied equipment already purchased for Belene.

However, after lengthy and complex negotiations, the AP-1000 technology was deemed the most suitable, according to the decision published on the parliament's website.

Currently, the Bulgarian nuclear power plant operates two Soviet-built VVER-1000 reactors (units 5&6). Bulgaria was obliged to close four older VVER-440 units as a condition for accession to the European Union, even though the units had undergone significant safety upgrades.

Earlier this month, Bulgaria, which is under pressure to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, signed an agreement with France's Framatome to receive fresh nuclear fuel for unit 6 between 2025 and 2034 following a similar agreement with Westinghouse Electric in December for nuclear fuel for unit 5. Fuel is currently supplied by Russia’s TVEL.

The Council of Ministers has now approved a strategic vision for the development of the power sector for 2023-2053. The document focuses on several key priorities. First and foremost, Bulgaria must remain a regional leader in electricity production and export. The protection of national and energy security, as well as the sustainable use of local energy sources, are also top priorities, as well as a transition to decarbonisation for the coal regions and protection against energy poverty.

The document envisages the use of indigenous lignite resources until 2030 and its gradual reduction and phase-out by 2038. This will help to maintain energy and national security, as well as the country's role as a regional leader in electricity production and export. In the nuclear power sector the strategy provides for construction of four reactors which will replace those due for decommissioning. It specifies that two reactors are to be built at the Kozloduy site and two more at Belene.

Caretaker Energy Minister Rossen Hristov has said that Bulgaria should aim to have 4,000 MWe of nuclear capacity, and to this end it should negotiate with all leading companies such as Westinghouse, Framatome and EDF and not just the USA.

Image: Kozloduy nuclear power plant (courtesy of Kozloduy NPP)