SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarian state-owned power generator NETC launched a tender yesterday to hire a financial adviser for the $2.0 billion Belene nuclear power plant project. The government of Simeon Saxe-Coburg has pledged to build the 1,600-2,000-megawatt plant to make up for other, aging reactors that will be shut down in 2006 as part of its commitments to join the European Union a year later. Slated to come on line in 2010, the plant should allow the impoverished country of 8 million people to maintain its place as the largest energy exporter in the Balkans. NETC said in an advertisement in the State Gazette that it would accept offers from investment banks and financial consultants with experience in large energy projects until noon on October 18. Bulgaria sank $1.0 billion into Belene, located on the Danube River some 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Sofia, when it began the project in the 1980s. It later stopped building due to a lack of funds and environmental protests. Three consortiums have shown interest in the deal, including one comprised by Czech engineering firm Skoda Praha, Citibank, Italy’s Unicredito and Czech Komercni Banka. Another competitor includes France’s Framatome and Russian Atomstroiexport. In the final group, Canada’s Atomic Energy Canada Ltd has teamed up with Italy’s Ansaldo Nuclear, Bechtel of the United States and Japan’s Hitachi. The first two groups have proposed using the already created site at Belene and a 1,000-megawatt Soviet-designed reactor supplied but not installed there, while the last would build a new plant. The Energy Ministry has said the state should keep a majority in the plant, but it expects foreign financial and strategic investors to seek stakes and finance a large part of the deal.