Bulgaria abandons nuclear project for gas power plant instead

Bulgaria has abandoned plans to build the 2,000 megawatt Belene nuclear power plant on the Danube River and will construct a new gas power plant instead, a deputy finance minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

The project has failed to attract serious foreign investors in the past three years after Germany’s RWE pulled out in 2009 due to funding concerns. Prime Minister Boiko Borisov had repeatedly said the 8 billion euro ($10.6 billion) project could not go ahead if it failed to attract Western investors.

“Bulgaria’s Belene nuclear power plant will not be constructed, and a gas power plant will be build instead,» Deputy Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov told Bulgarian national radio.

Goranov said Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest country, planned to pay for a 1,000 MW nuclear reactor that has already been constructed and will try to install it at its operational 2,000 MW Kozloduy nuclear plant.

The Balkan country has already spent 1.4 billion levs ($948 million) on the project, for which a previous administration had contracted Russia’s Atomstroyexport.

Goranov said Bulgaria would pay some 100 million euros more.

The decision to pull out is in line with the centre-right government’s stance since 2009, when it put on review major Russian-led energy projects and said it would abandon them if they are not economically viable and do not match the national interest.

Brussels and Washington have long expressed concerns that a new Russian-made nuclear plant would increase Bulgaria’s dependence on Russia, which could use its strength in energy to increase its political influence.

Economy Minister Delyan Dobrev will travel to Moscow on Thursday, Goranov said, after Borisov talked with Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Bulgaria gets over 95 percent of its natural gas from Russia’s Gazprom. Its only operational oil refinery, which provides more than 70 percent of the petrol in the country, is fully owned by Russia’s LUKOIL.

Bulgaria, meanwhile, has given the South Stream gas pipeline the status of a national project and declared it an object of national importance, providing opportunities for the speedy construction of the project.

The pipeline is intended to carry up to 63 bcm a year of Russian gas across the Black Sea to Greece, from where it will go to central and southern Europe.

“The government is looking for the right balance (in relations with Russia), and we can expect that next step will be to upgrade the pipeline network, with Russia taking a major role in it,» Gallup analyst Kancho Stoichev told Reuters.


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