Sofia says EU should let nuclear plant run again

SOFIA – Bulgaria will try to push the European Union’s executive body next month into letting it reopen two Soviet-made nuclear reactors closed due to safety concerns or to pay it more in compensation, its energy minister said yesterday. The Balkan country agreed to shut down two 440-megawatt nuclear reactors at its Kozloduy plant at the end of 2006 ahead of its entry into the bloc on January 1. Now, using its new member status and pointing to reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency that say upgrades have improved safety levels at the plant, it hopes to overcome concern among older EU members and restart the units. If not, the country will seek to raise the -570 million offered by Brussels to help pay for mothballing four of Kozloduy’s six reactors to 1 billion, Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov told Reuters in an interview. «There is a heavy power regime in Albania. There are serious power shortages in [the Former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia and Kosovo… The Commission cannot turn a blind eye to that,» he said. «I will bring the issue up at the meeting of energy ministers next month… and only after that will we think about compensation.» Bulgaria, until now the leading power exporter in southeastern Europe, has warned of a potential energy crisis in the region, where it covers 80 percent of the power deficit. It exported a record 7.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2006 but plans almost no exports this year because of the shutdowns. Analysts say its chances of re-opening the units are slim, as Brussels has taken a hard line on shutting down Soviet-designed reactors in ex-communist Slovakia and Lithuania, which joined the European Union in 2004. But Ovcharov said more compensation was possible. The Socialist-led government estimates total losses to Bulgaria from the shutdowns – including two older reactors taken off line in 2003 – could top billions of euros. «One billion (in compensation) is an expert’s estimate. It is based on what other countries have managed to arrange, and is in line with the lost capacity and the effect on the economy,» he said. Bulgaria is also building a second, 2,000-megawatt nuclear power plant at the Danube River town of Belene to compensate for the shutdown. It has contracted Russia’s Atomstroyexport to build it and make it operational in 2013. Ovcharov said he expected the state, which would keep a majority stake in the new -4 billion plant, to choose a strategic investor for the plant in the second half of the year.

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