Bulgaria’s Council of Ministers has decided that the National Electricity Company (NEK -Natsionalnata Elektricheska Kompaniya) is to sell some equipment stored at the suspended Belene NPP project to Kozloduy NPP to extend the operating life of Kozloduy units 5&6.

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. NEK said in August 2023 that it will be able to continue to conserve the equipment delivered for units 1&2 of Belene NPP” with technical assistance from Atomstroyexport.

Currently, Kozloduy NPP operates two Soviet-built VVER-1000 reactors (units 5&6), which are due to be decommissioned in 2027 and 2029. 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.

Rusatom Service earlier carried out several projects at Kozloduy, including a feasibility study for life extension. However, following the conflict in Ukraine, Russian involvement in Bulgaria’s nuclear programme has ended. The Kozloduy units are being switched from using Russian supplied fuel to fuel supplied by Westinghouse.

In February 2024, Bulgaria and the US signed a formal agreement to collaborate on the construction of new units at Kozloduy (7&8). The document outlines cooperation in nuclear power development and technology exchange. While the units are to have Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, Westinghouse will not take part in the construction but will retain overall control of the project.

The value of the Belene equipment to be transferred to Kozloduy is nearly BGN1m $554,000). An independent appraiser will determine the initial selling price, and the transaction will be carried out by direct negotiation between the two companies, according to regulations set out in the Public Enterprises Act. The Council of Ministers said implementation of the transaction will ensure the security of the equipment at Kozloduy as well as the optimisation of the time for carrying out repair activities.

This is not the first time NEK, was permitted to sell Belene components to Kozloduy. Filters, fans and other equipment were sold two years ago to be used in repair programmes at units 5&6.

Separately, the National Assembly earlier instructed the Minister of Energy to start negotiations with Ukraine for the sale of the two Belene reactor pressure vessels and accompanying equipment for completion of units 3&4 at its Khmelnitsky NPP. Bulgaria expects at least BGN 1.2m for the equipment but so far no agreement has been finalised although talks with Ukraine are continuing.

Meanwhile, in a recent podcast reported by Novinite Business, Professor Georgi Kaschiev, atomic physicist, former Chairman of the Committee for the Use of Atomic Energy for Peaceful Purposes and scientific supervisor for the commissioning of Kozloduy 7, expressed concerns about plans for the plant.

He noted that in eight years there will be nowhere to store used fuel from the existing Kozloduy NPP. “First, this fuel emits heat, that is, it must always be in an environment that ensures its cooling, and it must be placed in a specific way”, he said. He explained that after three years in the used fuel pools the fuel is transferred to onsite storage “and can stay there for decades”. However, space in the repository is decreasing. “So far, we have dealt with this because the used fuel was transported to Russia, where it was processed and temporarily stored. In this way we periodically made space in our storage. For the past two years, however, Russia has been unable to take the fuel…. If the used fuel is not transported, our storage will reach capacity in 2032.”

He added: “I was appointed as the head of a working group to update the spent fuel storage strategy. In this programme, we set out to start negotiations with France and to explore the options for processing our fuel at French factories. France has two plants for processing such fuel, which do not operate at full capacity. However, such a decision requires political will.”

He was especially concerned about mixing Russian fuel with the fuel of the Westinghouse. He explained that there is a risk of abrasion between two adjacent cartridges, which may lead to depressurisation. “The other thing that worries me is that our contract with the Russians for internal reactor control has expired and they will no longer provide data on their cartridges that remain in the reactor. And these data are very important for the whole process. A big problem may arise here.”