The Bulgarian government has moved forward the deadline for appointing a new financial consultant for the Belene nuclear project to the end of this month, following a decision to expand nuclear capacity whether a majority investor for the plant will be found or not.
According to Bulgarian energy minister Traicho Traikov, the country's government will choose between HSBC, Société Générale or Ernst & Young and a consortium of KPMG with McGuire, Rothschild and Arjil. The groups have all bid for the consultant's role on Belene.
The minister added that, in case Bulgaria does not find a new major investor after following the consultant selection, the government will focus on the construction of a new reactor at the existing Kozloduy nuclear plant instead of Belene. Four Soviet-era reactors at Kozloduy were closed on condition of joining the EU causing a general energy defecit in the region.
Belene's initial price tag has been estimated by supplier Rosatom as being €4 billion, but an inflation target for the project was not included in this estimate. The Bulgarian GERB-led government, which came into power exactly one year ago, has concluded that the more realistic price could be anything ranging from €6 billion to €10 billion.
The selection of the consultant is of paramount importance to the Belene project, as the selected company will need to draft a strategic plan for the restructuring of Belene's business plan so far, which will be used as a vehicle to try and attract a strategic European investor.
In autumn 2009, German utility RWE withdrew as a strategic investor in Belene, which was designed to offset the loss in generating capacity following the premature closure of the Kozloduy reactors totalling 1680 MWe.
Traikov said that the construction of a seventh nuclear reactor at the existing Kozloduy plant is a cheaper and better alternative to Belene. In addition, the seventh reactor at Kozloduy could be built regardless of the final fate of the planned Belene plant, Traikov said.
Traikov added that the final fate of Belene will be resolved by the end of August 2010, one way or another, bringing the decision deadine forward by one month.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria will continue to make payments to Russian contractor AtomStroyExport for the construction of the first reactor at the future Belene plant, while also attenpting to keep Serbia interested in investing in up to 5% of the project's value, if a major European investor can be found.
Serbia has previously confirmed its interest in a minority stake in Belene, following recent diplomatic activities between the two countries, based on a prospective secured loan from the Chinese Development Bank.
By Rumyana Vakarelska
for World Nuclear News