The long-running effort to finance the Belene new build project should see the selection of project advisors and the launch of a new tender in September.
With new advisors in place to manage the project, there wouldbe a 'green light' to issue a new tender for strategic European investors, Stanislav Georgiev of the Bulgarian Nuclear Industry Association, Bulatom, told World Nuclear News.
"In the run-up to autumn, my close observation of the work of the various interested parties towards financing Belene from respectively Bulgaria, Russia, Macedonia and Serbia - to list a few - demonstrate that the project is entering a new stage," said Georgiev.
While Belene's technical specification was settled last year as a twin VVER-1000 (A-92) pressurized water reactor plant, the process of establishing how the project will be best financed and managed is entering a new stage after the break-up of a deal with Germany's RWE also last year.
Central to Belene's financing is the requirement of the Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov to identify a new strategic European investor, where currently he is exploring the option of Belene's future as a "Balkan, European project, which is consistent with his efforts to bring regional players as partners."
"Eventually, the two processes towards the completion of the technical and management specifications, which are running parallel to each other, will at one point get together," said Georgiev. "Meanwhile, the management process is catching up with the technological plan." Without the detail of a financial structure it is not possible to define timelines for the construction.
As far as Bulgaria's existing obligations towards Russia are concerned, in September the Bulgarian government will need to pay through the National Electricity Company the second tranche of €260 million ($337 million) to AtomStroyExport, according to a turn-key contract signed in January 2008.
This will keep the project on track, while the Bulgarian government and the new adviser will run the new bid in the autumn. Russia has repeatedly offered to finance the project, but Borysov has been resisting this despite the absence of other finance and a commitment to build.
Further to that, Borissov and Russian deputy prime minister Viktor Zubkov have recently discussed a total price of €4 billion ($5.1 billion) for Belene. Even accounting for inflation during a construction period of six to ten years, it is thought the cost cannot go beyond €6-7 billion ($7.7-9.0 billion).
This should provide Bulgaria and Russia as well as long-term regional investors such as Macedonia and Serbia with a solid base of action for new proposals. Macedonia and Serbia first indicated interest in Belene some five years ago, while now Macedonia is a considering a making a specific offer for 5% of the project. Bulgaria was forced to close four power reactors as part of its deal to join the EU and the wider region has been suffering an energy defecit as a result.
Serbia is likely to confirm its investor intentions next week when President Boris Tadic meets Borysov to discuss the options.
Grigoriev said, "One should not forget that Bulgaria has already lost one strategic investor in 2008 in the face of RWE, while its alternative to nuclear power - natural resources to produce electricity by using coal, hydro and renewable energy - will not position the country well in the European electricity market for the future. Belene remains a strategic new nuclear project with good prospects, where regional and other strategic investors will remain welcome."
By Rumyana Vakarelska
for World Nuclear News