Bulgaria to end Belene nuclear plant moratorium

Four companies have expressed interest in building the Belene Nuclear Power Plant as Bulgaria is expected to lift the moratorium on its construction

Four companies have deposited written notes expressing their interest in participating in a bid to construct the Belene Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) as parliament is expected to vote by the end of this week to lift the moratorium on its construction, Vice-Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev said on Sunday.

The energy committee of the Bulgarian parliament announced the names of three of the companies on Friday, but in an interview with Bulgarian bTV on Sunday, Donchev refused to name the fourth that has expressed interest.

The three named by the committee are the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation, CNNC, the Russian Rosatom and the French Framatome reactor business.

During his visit to Moscow last Wednesday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said that Belene NPP will only be built if it attracts a strategic investor and if it abides by market principles.

The moratorium on the construction of the plant was imposed by Borissov’s first cabinet in March 2012 and confirmed by parliament in February 2013.

On Friday, Energy Minister Temenuzhka Petkova added that in the “best case scenario”, the project would be completed without state guarantees, without state-guaranteed contracts for the purchase of energy at fixed prices, and with the assets and liabilities of the new holding being separated from those of the state-owned National Electric Company, NEC and the Bulgarian Energy Holding, BEH.

It is still unclear whether any of the companies that have expressed interest in the project are ready to abide by such conditions.

Despite Borissov’s suggestion that state guarantees will be kept minimal, his cabinet ministers have sent more mixed messages.

Petkova told the energy committee that there is a possibility that the Belene NPP will be constructed with an inter-state loan from Russia, like the Paks NPP in Hungary.

According to the energy minister, in order for this to happen, Bulgaria will need to keep at least 34 per cent of the stakes in the project, which is evaluated at 20 billion lev (10 billion euros).

At the moment, the assets of the two Bulgarian energy companies, the NEC and BEH, are evaluated at three billion lev (1.53 billion euros), which would amount to 15 per cent of the currently estimated costs of the project.

This would mean that the state would need to double its investment if this option is chosen by parliament, which would result in increased state borrowing.

The project has already cost Bulgaria 600 million Euros, after NEC lost an arbitration case with the Russian Atomstroyexport for the production of two nuclear reactors. Bulgaria had not paid for the reactors after construction on the Belene NPP was halted in 2012 when the moratorium was imposed.

On Friday, the parliamentary group of the Bulgarian Socialist Party deposited a legislative proposal in parliament that would see the moratorium on the construction of the project dropped.

Judging from the support for the move from Borissov’s cabinet, it is highly likely that the GERB parliamentary majority will back the motion and that it will pass.

It is then expected that the various options will be put up for discussion and voted upon.

Source: balkaninsight