Bulgaria urged to consider new build

29 January 2018

Bulgaria should accelerate new nuclear build to meet the growing need for reliable, low-carbon electricity, World Nuclear Association director general Agneta Rising told Energy Commission Members at the Bulgarian Parliament on 25 January.

Rising called on the Bulgarian government to bring new momentum to nuclear new build in Bulgaria.

"We look to governments to set clear and consistent energy policy, policy that recognises those energy sources with low carbon attributes, that reflects system costs and ensures security of supply and that encourages investment in new generation projects," she said.

"The time is right for Bulgaria to take the lead and make a strong commitment to a new nuclear build programme."

Nuclear energy supplies around 35% of Bulgaria's electricity, from two Soviet-built VVER-1000 units operating at Kozloduy nuclear plant. However, four smaller units at Kozloduy were closed under pressure from the European Union (EU) as a condition for Bulgaria’s EU membership.

A new plant, the Belene nuclear plant, was planned but was cancelled after construction began. The Belene project, first started in the 1980s but abandoned following the Soviet collapse, was resurrected in 2002. 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 reactors at Belene, but the project was cancelled in 2012 following a change of government after work had begun. The International Court of Arbitration under the International Chamber of Commerce in Geneva in 2016 awarded Atomstroyexport €620m ($688m) over the cancellation of the project for equipment already manufactured, and Bulgaria agreed to take possession of the reactors. Rosatom in October said it is ready to invest in the Belene project if it is revived.

The Bulgarian government has insisted that the project can only be revived with private investment. However, a Risk Analysis for Variants of the Belene NPP project, prepared by the Vienna International Centre for Nuclear Competence for the Bulgarian Atomic Forum (Bulatom) on 22 January recommended that the Bulgarian government should seriously reconsider their position of non-participation. Globally, there is no precedent in which nuclear projects are implemented without state involvement. Different forms, elements and rates of participation are possible, including those ranging from direct sponsorship, loan guarantees, tax credits, long-term energy purchase agreements and price differences, the analysis noted.

The report said the annual cost of the project would be about €2bn which the state could afford. Another option is to use the equipment for a new unit at Kozloduy, but this would incur additional costs. Abandoning the project and selling the equipment as scrap would result in a loss of about $1.5m. Other options are 100% state participation; 100% private participation, which would require new licensing; or state partnership with an investor. The sale of the project is also a possibility to companies from Russia and China.

In November 2017, Scientists at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS) also recommended continuing construction of Belene. "The Belene NPP construction project is viable," said Professor Alexander Tasev, head of a scientific group that conducted a technical, economic and legal analysis of the project. He noted that the nuclear plant would be profitable provided investments in the project do not exceed €10.5bn ($12.4bn), and interest on loans raised should not be more than 4.5%. The experts also recommended direct involvement of the state in the construction of the station as one of the investors.

On 22 January, Lachezar Kostov, Chairman of Bulgaria’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA) said the Belene project could move to the approval of the technical plan if the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly decided to restart the project. The project would have to be revised to meet new post-Fukushima requirements, but this could be done within in six months, he said. He confirmed that state-owned National Electric Company (NEK) had the finances and human resources to follow the recommendations of the Russian manufacturer for storage of the reactor components. So far, two batches of reactor equipment components, including two reactor pressure vessels, six steam generators, and two pressurisers, have been delivered to the Belene site.

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