EC approval needed for revival of Bulgaria’s Belene project

3 December 2018

The European Commission’s (EC’s) climate action and energy commissioner Arias Cañete said on 22 November that it will require formal notification from Bulgaria for the restart of the Belene nuclear project.

Replying to questions from Bulgarian European Parliament member Svetoslav Malinov, Cañete said the commission considers that the 2018 revival of the Belene project is “a new project within the meaning of Article 41 of the Euratom Treaty”.

Bulgaria’s Energy Minister Temenouzhka Petkova said on 23 November that regulatory approval from the Commission for the restart of the Belene nuclear project would not cause a major delay for the project. She told Bulgarian National Radio that the Commission’s assessment would take "several months," but that Bulgaria would first need to seek stategic investors for the project. Petkova noted that the project was unchanged in terms of the technology selected, and appeared to indicate that any future request for approval would be submitted as an amended investment project, rather than a new one.

Petkova reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the “market principle”, and that any future investor would have to agree that the nuclear plant is built without any state guarantees or long-term electricity purchase contracts.  

The government earlier in November approved the draft framework for the selection process of a strategic investor, indicating that the process could take 12 months in a best-case scenario. The draft will shortly be presented  to Parliament, which earlier this year gave the Cabinet a mandate to hold talks with potential investors.

In 2008, Bulgaria approved the design, construction and commissioning of two Russian VVER-1000 pressurised water reactor units for Belene. The c
Commission was notified of the project, as required by the Euratom Treaty, in 2007. However, Belene was cancelled in 2012 because of financial and political considerations. The project was revived, again, in June 2018 after a series of arbitration procedures which took four years to conclude. Bulgaria plans to issue with a call for expressions of interest in Belene by the end of 2018 and decide on investment by the end of 2019 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, Russia’s OKB Gidropress has shipped two sets of expanded graphite gaskets for the first and second power units of Belene – part of the equipment already ordered before the project was cancelled. The gaskets will be used during commissioning works on the upper reactor units. OKB Gidropress is part of JSC Atomenergomash, the machine-building division of state nuclear corporation Rosatom. Equipment manufactured and delivered for the Belene units is currently being stored on site.

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