Russia will deliver all of the equipment for the cancelled Belene nuclear project to Bulgaria by the end of the year, Minister of Energy Temenujka Petkova said last week. She suggested that a new agreement should be signed with Russia relating to preservation of the equipment, adding that it was unclear how much it would cost to maintain the equipment or for how long. Negotiations on the issue with Moscow are likely to continue until the end of the year, she added.
The Belene project was initially started in the 1980s but was abandoned following the collapse of the USSR. It was revived in 2002, and in 2006 Russia’s Atomstroyexport (part of state nuclear corporation Rosatom) won an international tender to build the two-unit plant. In 2008, Bulgaria signed a contract for the design, construction and commissioning of two Russian VVER-1000 pressurised water reactor units for Belene but the project was cancelled in 2012, following a change of government. However, equipment had already been manufactured, and the Geneva-based International Court of Arbitration (ICA) in 2016 ordered state-owned Bulgarian National Electric Company (NEK), to pay €620m ($733m) to Atomstroyexport for the equipment. The compensation claim was settled in December 2016, with Bulgaria assuming ownership of the components.
In August, Incotec Cargo announced that, under a contract with Atomstroyexport, it had delivered to the Belene site the first batch of large-scale equipment comprising 61 components including 33 large items weighing a total of 4,043 tons such as reactor pressure vessel, its top cover and two pressurisers. The remaining equipment will arrive later this year.
The fate of the Belene nuclear plant remains unclear. Before it was cancelled, Russia had offered a loan to finance construction, but this was rejected by Bulgaria. However, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov recently met with representatives of Rosatom and the possibility of Russian investment was reconsidered, Petkova said.
In 2016 discussions took place with Rosatom about the possibility of installing one of the Belene reactors at Kozloduy and selling the second one to a third party. The alternative was a privately financed completion of Belene. The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences is currently preparing a report on the different options. Petkova said the interim report of the scientists is ready noting that it showed that after 2035 Bulgaria would need additional energy capacities without specifying whether they should be nuclear. According to Bulgarian press reports, three companies have so far expressed interest in Belene – France’s EDF, the China National Nuclear Corporation and an unnamed American financial consortium. Promcombank of China also registered its interest.