Russia threatens to stop Belene work

20 March 2012

While the deadline for the signing of the project agreement for Bulgaria's planned Belene nuclear power plant approaches, the government continues to seek partners to help finance the project. Russia's AtomStroyExport (ASE) warned that it will stop work on the project unless the agreement is signed.

OMZ Izhora announced that it had finshed manufacturing the reactor vessel for the site's first VVER-1000 unit and has test assembled it as well as its internals at the manufacturing plant in Saint Petersburg. This, the company said, is one of the final stages in the manufacturing process prior to the reactor vessel being shipped to the customer, Bulgaria's National Electricity Company (NEK), expected to take place in mid-April.

Belene reactor vessel (Rosatom)
OMZ engineers test assemble the first reactor vessel for Belene (Image: Rosatom)

OMZ was working for the Belene project's prime contractor, AtomStroyExport (ASE), which was awarded a contract in 2006 to build two VVER-1000 units. Rosatom said that completion of the reactor vessel demonstrates that it is fulfilling its obligations to implement the Belene project.

Bulgaria, meanwhile, has continued to seek financial partners for the project. Disagreement between Bulgaria and Russia over the price has led to delays in negotiations. In October 2011, ASE and NEK signed a supplement to their construction agreement, extending it until the end of March 2012.

Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov was reported by Reuters to have said last week that the Belene project would be cancelled if Bulgaria failed to find sufficient funding from Western partners. Instead, he suggested, the reactor intended for the first Belene unit could be installed at the existing Kozloduy plant. Bulgaria is said to have already paid two-thirds of the costs for this reactor.

Rosatom was selected by NEK to co-finance two reactors at Belene, with a strategic partner and two minority stakeholders. Germany's RWE had announced plans to take a stake in the Belene plant, but in October 2009 withdrew from the project. In the absence of a second principal investor following RWE's departure, NEK has consistently declined Rosatom's offers to fully finance Belene. The Bulgarian government's long-term strategy is for diversification of energy sources and stepping away from a further dependence on Russia.

ASE has now warned that, although it remains committed to the Belene project, it may stop work on the plant. Company representative Olga Tsyleva said, "We are fulfilling all the obligations under the project, despite the uncertainty of Bulgaria's position." She said that ASE would reduce the number of of its employees working at the Belene construction site, at which work is ongoing, but not under the official status of plant construction.

Although Bulgaria has until the end of this month to decide whether to continue with the Belene project, a further extension to the agreement with Rosatom is a possibility.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News