Energy crisis spurs Bulgaria's nuclear debate

15 October 2021

Demands for new nuclear build in Bulgaria have intensified on the high price of coal-fired electricity and the need to replace the power plants that produce it. Bogomil Manchev, chairman of the Bulgarian Atomic Forum, used a newspaper interview to call on the government to make a plan to build at Belene as well as Kozloduy.

Bogomil Manchev (Image: Bulgarian Atomic Forum)

"I personally hope," Manchev told Trud, the country's largest newspaper, "that the objective reality that has happened in our country" causes the caretaker government led by Prime Minister Stefan Yanev to "make a strategy."

Manchev told the newspaper that Bulgarian energy prices are being hurt by the high cost of carbon dioxide emissions, which are about EUR60 (USD70) per tonne in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Given that about 40% of the country's electricity comes from coal, the cost is substantial.

At the same time, Bulgaria is deciding when to close its coal plants and this week adopted a Recovery and Sustainability Plan that proposes either 2038 or 2040. Manchev dismissed these extended timelines: "We are now trying to cheat by explaining that we are the poorest and therefore should be left to pollute for longer."

"The important thing," said Manchev "is that in order to start tackling high carbon prices, we need to make new baseload power that is clean."

"The only [clean baseload] that Bulgaria can have at the moment is the Belene nuclear power plant and then the 7th and 8th units at Kozloduy," Manchev declared. Starting over the next 15 years, those new reactors would produce about 32 TWh, Manchev said, comparing that to the 18 TWh that comes from coal generation destined for closure and a further 15 TWh needed to produce hydrogen to mix with natural gas.

"We can no longer choose whether to build units 7 and 8 of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant or Belene," Manchev told Trud. "We just have to start with Belene, because it is ten years ahead of Kozloduy 7 and 8. There is no longer an option for either one project or the other. The 'or' has disappeared."

Manchev said Bulgaria could start on Belene "within one year, if it is 100% state owned."

The Belene nuclear plant construction project would see two 1000 MWe reactors built on the Danube, which marks Bulgaria's northern border with Romania. In May 2019, the government issued a call for expressions of interest and in August that year it was reported in the 24 Chasa newspaper that China National Nuclear Corporation, Framatome, General Electric, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power and Rosatom had all applied for the selection process.

The Kozloduy plant, also on the Danube, has two operating VVER-1000 reactors which are expected to have their licences extended so that they run until 2047 and 2051. In January, the Bulgarian cabinet approved a plan to construct Kozloduy 7 using some components bought during the failed Belene project.

Manchev said, "Belene has no technical or financial problems, it only has political problems. It is the same for the 7th and 8th units [at Kozloduy]." He recalled the effort to build Belene in 2007, when the Bulgarian National Energy Company (NEK) took a 51% stake, with Germany's RWE holding the remaining 49%, but other investors could not be found and the project ground to a halt. This time there are partners with the experience and technology required, Manchev said, but, "Our country must be a 100% investor, not a participant."

Prime Minister Stefan Yanev gave an indication of his thinking at a business-government meeting on 11 October. According to a government statement, he has ordered a workgroup to map out an energy strategy. It is "to prepare the soil for a meaningful debate on nuclear power to which, in the Prime Minister’s opinion, there is no alternative in terms of ensuring the energy system’s sustainability."

Timmermans' tentative support

Also this week, Bulgaria is being visited by Frans Timmermans, who is the Vice-President of the European Commission and responsible for the Green Deal, among other decarbonisation measures.

Speaking to BTV, Timmermans said: "There is no future in coal ... Brussels will stand behind Bulgaria if you decide to complete the Belene nuclear power plant. Check the numbers - what are the pros and cons. Make a decision for which we will support you."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News