Bulgarian government drops Belene

29 March 2012

Bulgaria will not go ahead with the completion of a new nuclear power plant at Belene and instead wants the Russian-supplied reactor that was to have been installed there to become the seventh unit at the existing Kozloduy site.

 Belene reactor vessel (Rosatom)_200
OMZ engineers work on Belene's reactor vessel (Image: Rosatom)

The government's repeal of three earlier decisions by its Council of Ministers on the construction of Belene comes as an already extended construction agreement between Russsian reactor builder AtomStroyExport (ASE) and Bulgaria's National Electricity Company (NEK) was due to expire.

AtomStroyExport was selected to build the first of two 1060 MWe AES-92 pressurised water reactor units at Belene in 2005. Preliminary site works began in 2008, and contracts for components including large forgings and instrumentation and control systems were signed with suppliers, but the project has been stymied by financing problems. Germany's RWE Power, which was to have been a 49% strategic investor in the project, withdrew in 2009. The same year, a newly elected Bulgarian government decided that it would not take the full 51% stake originally envisaged.

Under a 2010 memorandum of understanding NEK agreed to take an initial 51% stake, with Russia's Rosatom undertaking a co-financing arrangement. However, the Bulgarian government has failed in its efforts to find its desired equity investor to replace RWE.

Bulgarian economy and energy minister Delian Dobrev told the government that building a seventh nuclear unit at the existing Kozloduy site using the equipment already procured for Belene would be a "far more realistic" proposition, not only because of the site's existing supporting infrastructure but also because it could be more attractive to strategic investors. The government has mooted the possibility of building a gas-fired power plant at Belene to help maintain the security and stability of regional energy supplies.

Kozloduy is home to Bulgaria's only operating units, two Russian-designed pressurised water reactors that have been in operation since 1987 and 1991 respectively. Four older units at the site were closed down by 2006 as a condition of Bulgaria's accession to the European Union and are undergoing decommissioning.

Russia's reaction to the Bulgarian government decision remains unclear although litigation is not unlikely. In July 2011, ASE launched legal proceedings against NEK over non-payment of work already completed. Work on Belene's reactor vessel is already in its final stages at OMZ Izhora's St Petersburg site, and the component had been due to be shipped to NEK next month.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News