ECONOMY

Bulgarian nuclear plant

SOFIA – Canada’s Atomic Energy Canada Ltd said yesterday it saw little reason to continue in a tender to build a nuclear power plant at the Bulgarian Danube River town of Belene because the company had been sidelined in the process. Bulgaria aims to build the 2-billion-euro plant to replace aging reactors it has promised to close ahead of EU entry in 2007 so it can keep its position as Southeastern Europe’s main exporter of electricity. The Canadian firm and its partners propose to run the entire project as a single main contractor but AECL Regional vice president for Europe Ala Alizadeh said it appeared that Bulgarian authorities wanted to sign multiple deals with different contractors for each part of the project. The Bulgarian authorities also appear to want the state-run power generation monopoly NETC to oversee the project. NETC will keep a majority in the plant, but is also seeking financial and strategic investors to take part in the deal. Alizadeh told a news conference Bulgaria’s Energy Ministry had stopped communication with his company. «We currently do not see the transparent, fair, and competitive process required for the continuation of our involvement,» he told reporters. «AECL and its partners do not intend to continue to help provide only the appearance of a competitive process. As a result, we seriously question any further participation in the Belene project.» The Energy Ministry was not immediately available for comment. It has launched a tender to seek a financial adviser for the deal, but has yet to seek construction bids for the plant. Alizadeh would not say whether AECL and its partners, Italy’s Ansaldo Nuclear, US Bechtel and Japan’s Hitachi Corp, had actually withdrawn from the tender. They had proposed supplying two 700-megawatt CANDU 6 reactors in a new project, while two other groups had offered to continue work on an existing site where a 1,000MW Russian VVER reactor has been supplied but not installed. Those consortia include one comprising France’s Framatome and Russia’s Atomstroiexport and another grouping Czech Skoda Praha, Citibank Italy’s Unicredito and Czech Komercni Banka. Bulgaria sank $1.0 billion into Belene, located some 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Sofia, when it began the project in the 1980s, but it later halted work due to a lack of funds and environmental protests. The government has said it wants Belene to provide 1,600-2,000MW of energy by 2010, and preliminary indications from the ministry are that it intends to use the already existing site and supplied material for the plant.