Bulatom seeks level playing field for Belene Project

21 June 2021

Bulgaria’s nuclear society, Bulatom, on 14 June published its position on the main projects in the electricity industry of Bulgaria, in particular the Belene NPP project. In an earlier letter, addressed to “colleagues”, Bulatom noted: “Currently, there is an intensive debate in the society about the future of nuclear energy in our country, including the two promising projects that are in the process of structuring and selecting options for implementation: the project for construction of nuclear power on the approved new site near Kozloduy; and the project for construction of nuclear power at the Belene site.”

Bulatom said that “as a major non-governmental organisation uniting the position and interests of the nuclear sector in Bulgaria”, it supported “all efforts aimed at finding a workable formula for the implementation of each of these projects in the shortest possible time”. It noted that full and detailed information about the Kozloduy project was available on the government website https://npp-nb.bg. “At the same time, currently, due to the lack of an active project organisation for Belene NPP, the society is deprived of a source of publicly available information about the history, characteristics and prospects of this project.”

It continued: “In this regard, Bulatom has set itself the goal of providing the public with synthesised up-to-date public information dedicated to the Belene NPP project. In recent months, with the assistance of Selmeda Ltd, this platform has been developed and today we are pleased to present it to you.” Bulatom said, with the development of this site, it “aims to provide the public with synthesised up-to-date public information in the form of an interactive publicly accessible internet-based platform dedicated to the Belene NPP project”. The purpose of the platform, available in Bulgarian and English, “is to be the main source of public information on the project for all stakeholders from Bulgaria and abroad”. Bulatom Management Board sajd: “We invite you to visit and share the platform: https://www.beleneproject.bg.”

In January 2021, following several meetings with US officials, the Bulgarian government approved a report on the possibilities for construction of a new nuclear unit at site No 2 of the Kozloduy NPP.

Significantly, the report did not consider completion of the Belene project. Earlier, Rosatom, Framatome and General Electric were shortlisted among five applicants for implementation of the Belene project, along with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power. The announcement of the procedure for selecting a strategic investor for the Belene NPP was published in 2019, in the Official Journal of the European Union. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tender deadline was postponed.

The Belene project was for 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, in 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 components are now stored at the construction site.

According to Bulatom’s new site, the additional investment needed to complete the Belene project is around €8-9.5 billion. The structure of the required capital must be (whether the investor is the Bulgarian state or a private investor) 30% equity and 70% attracted capital. The attracted capital should be provided through a loan - with a payback period of 25 years and a grace period of eight years (the period of time required for construction and commissioning of the units). Noting that the Bulgarian state has already invested €1.5 billion in the Project, Bulatom said these funds can be presented as equity if the state decided to participate in the project.

The two units at Belene NPP will be able to produce about 16 million MWh a year at full load and the price of the project is €60/MWh. The annual income of the plant will be around €960 million, assuming operating costs of around €350 million a year (operation, repairs, new fuel, used fuel, decommissioning funds and other expenses).The future owner will therefore have about €610 million a year to repay the loans taken and repay the used equity, which would be over 14-15 years. “At the same time, we know that the service life of these facilities is 60 years - you can draw your own conclusions,” Bulatom said.

Bulatom lists the benefits of the Belene project as follows:

  • Reliable production of basic electricity for at least 60 years.
  • The largest site for the construction of a new NPP in Europe, currently licensed for two 1000MWe nuclear units.
  • A project allowing full and timely implementation of Bulgarian and European Union strategy to achieve the goals of decarbonisation of the economy.
  • The latest generation of the most common nuclear reactors in the world - pressurised water reactors, characterised by high reliability and efficiency.
  • High degree of readiness for implementation with minimal risks from a licensing and financial point of view and of the terms for commissioning.
  • A project that meets all modern requirements, combining active and passive safety systems, severe accident management having successfully passed stress tests after the events at Fukushima.

Bulatom notes that the project is largely ready for implementation, including completed site preparation and availability of basic equipment for the reactor unit for the planned two units. It adds that 51% of all Bulgarians support the construction of the Belene NPP.

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