Bulgaria says reactor closures hit Balkans

OHRID (Reuters) – The closure of two Bulgarian nuclear reactors at the European Union’s request has created a power crisis in the Balkans, Bulgaria said yesterday, adding it had not given up on getting the units reopened. The bloc newcomer agreed to shut down the two reactors at its Kozloduy plant at the end of 2006 as part of a deal for its accession. The EU said the aging Soviet-made units were unsafe. It had been the leading power exporter in the region until then, and the closure has already created serious shortages for its neighbors, Bulgarian Vice President Angel Marin said on the sidelines of a regional conference on energy issues. «They are having a very difficult time covering the demand, notably in Albania where they’ve had to introduce blackouts,» Marin told Reuters here. «The problem is not only one of insufficient supply… it’s that safety and stability are undermined because shortage of electric power has direct repercussions on the lives of our citizens,» he said. «This was a blow not only against Bulgarian interests, but against the interests of the region.» Bulgaria exported a record 7.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2006, but plans almost no exports this year because of the shutdown. It has asked for a further grace period, saying the reactors are safe. It is also seeking more EU funds to help dismantle the reactors, decommission waste and build capacity. «We have an agreement with the EU concerning units 3 and 4 of Kozloduy and we are going to keep to our commitment,» Marin said. But he hoped the EU would realize that this was not only Bulgaria’s problem, but affected the entire region, he said. «We hope there will be a time when we will be allowed to reopen units 3 and 4,» he said. «Reason must prevail. The safety of the units has been proven, there is no rationale in terms of safety for them to be closed down.» The Balkan countries appealed to the EU over Kozloduy last month, saying electricity prices had jumped by between 80 and 100 percent to up to 100 euros per MWh since the plant closed. Brussels was quick to shoot them down, saying Bulgaria had agreed to the closure in its accession treaty. Marin said that until the Kozloduy issue was settled, Bulgaria was looking to the future with plans to start work on building a new nuclear plant at Belene with a 2,000 MW capacity. «All of our neighbors are showing interest in investing in the project, so it is well under way,» Marin said. Sofia also planned to add to existing capacity by modernizing some power plants and also building new coal-powered facilities. But Bulgaria could not cover the expense of all these projects alone, he said. With the cost of the Belene plant alone estimated at some 4 billion euros, he urged more investment both from the EU and from its neighbors.

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