SOFIA (Reuters) – The European Commission has given Bulgaria approval for a 300-million-euro loan from the Euroatom atomic energy body to finance part of its 3.99-billion-euro nuclear power plant project, officials said yesterday. The Energy Ministry said EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs told Bulgarian Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov last week that Bulgaria had received the green light for the loan. «Bulgaria has received approval for the loan and, although it is just a small part of the entire financing, this means support for the project,» Energy Ministry spokeswoman Elena Yotova said. Last month, the country – which is due to join the European Union on January 1, 2007 – picked Russia’s Atomstroyexport, in which Gazprom holds 49 percent, to build the plant. The Russian group outbid a Czech consortium led by Skoda JS, owned by Gazprom-controlled OMZ. Atomstroyexport, in a consortium with France’s Areva and Germany’s Siemens, pledged to bring the first of two new 1,000-megawatt reactors on line in six-and-a-half years. Bulgaria will sign a draft contract with the Russian consortium at the end of November and two to three months later details on the financing should be cleared up, Yotova said. The state’s dominant utility, NETC, has said it would seek financing for the project through the export agencies of the chosen builders – Russia, France and Germany – and from global investment banks and the European Investment Bank. So far, Bulgaria has held initial talks with Italy’s Enel, Czech CEZ, Russian Unified Energy System, Germany’s E.ON, France’s EdF, Belgium’s Tractabel and Spain’s Iberdrola and may invite some of them as prospective investors. Bulgaria is building the new plant to keep its role as the region’s top energy exporter in the long term after it closes two 440-megawatt reactors at its Kozloduy nuclear plant prior to joining the European Union.