Bulgaria holds back on sale of Belene nuclear equipment to Ukraine

16 January 2024

Bulgaria is waiting for "more sensible common EU stance on Ukraine” before it sells equipment from the unfinished Belene NPP to Kyiv, Energy Minister Rumen Radev told journalists after a ceremony marking the centenary of the Boyana Hydroelectric Power Plant.

Radev specified that he was referring to the EU financial package for Ukraine. He is convinced that progress will be made on the matter. "The equipment is in excellent condition," he said. According to the minister, the waiting time has been used to determine whether Bulgaria can use parts of the steam generators from Belene for its own purposes. "Theoretically, we could use them, but it has been firmly established already that we do not need them," Radev explained.

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.

Bulgaria’s National Electricity Company (NEK - Natsiunalnata Elektricheska Kompania) 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. The government ensured continued maintenance of the equipment by adopting an exception to European sanctions imposed on Russia following its special military operation in Ukraine. Conservation activities are carried out at the Belene site to ensure that the condition of the equipment is maintained in accordance with the requirements of the manufacturer ZIO-Podolsk.

The technical management contract for the conservation of long-range equipment, signed in July 2021, ended on 31 December 2023 but is expected to be extended in line with the requirements of the Public Procurement Act. A similar derogation was approved in September 2022. Although plans to possibly use the equipment for expansion of Bulgaria’s Kozloduy NPP have now been dropped, Ukraine expressed interest in buying the equipment, with financing for the deal expected to come from the European Union (EU).

Radev said the strategic decision to postpone the sale of equipment to Ukraine was taken in anticipation of a more cohesive and unified EU stance, particularly concerning financial support for Ukraine. Radev said he was confident progress toward EU consensus will be achieved before any transaction proceeds. He emphasised that the equipment is currently in excellent condition. If no deal is reached with Ukraine, “alternatives will continue to be sought”, he added.

Image: Reactor equipment stored at the Belene site

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