(Image: Boryana Katsarova/AFP/Getty Images)
Thousands of Bulgarians assembled in their capital yesterday to demand the restart of the Kozloduy 3 and 4 nuclear reactors while the government took steps to do so.
The Novinvite news agency put the number of protestors in Sofia at 4000, while Reuters said 2500. They carried placards reading "Restart" and "Speed up Bulgarian energy." The group, led by the Napred (Forward) coalition, demanded that the two reactors at Kozloduy shut down as part of Bulgaria's accession to the EU be restarted for two reasons: the effects of this month's Gas War between Russia and Ukraine; and the loss of revenue from energy exports formerly supported by the reactors.
Bulgaria has lost its entire gas supply because of the row between state-owned firms in Ukraine and Russia - and this while suffering freezing conditions. Ukraine delivered gas from its own supplies on 10 January to alleviate the situation in Bulgaria and emergency measures a week later secured a secondary supply of gas from Greece, which itself has had an 85% cut in supply.
Restarts now look likely
Prime minister Sergei Stanishev and senior ministers met with the protest leaders reiterating that their priority was to "objectively assess the situation and weigh in advance the benefits and the disadvantages of a reopening of Kozloduy units." However, a government declaration calling for the restarts was to be presented to European Commission representatives in Sofia today.
Technical steps to bring the two reactors back into service began on 16 January on Stanishev's orders. It is expected to take about 45 days to ready the reactors, closed down at the end of 2006, for use again.
"My position is that the decision to close Kozloduy units 3 and 4 was not based on an objective and effective expert examination," Stanishev said, adding: "This decision was imposed conditionally in the period of negotiations, before the formation of this government." This was confirmed by Meglena Kuneva, the Bulgarian EC Commissioner for consumer protection, in an interview with Nova TV: "When I started negotiations, Bulgaria had already undertaken the engagement to decommission units 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Kozloduy nuclear power plant." Kuneva concluded: "I have always fought for these units and I did my best many times. The whole state apparatus joined the fight."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) have both independently confirmed that the reactors meet international safety standards after extensive refits including new control systems.
WANO said in January 2007 that "no technical reasons exist for the early closure of units 3 and 4." Article 36 of the Bulgaria's accession agreement says that in a national crisis the country has the right to resume power generation using the units.