SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria has given its nod to the construction of a new coal-fired plant of at least 600 megawatts to restore its position of leading power producer in Southeastern Europe, the government said yesterday. The Balkan country used to cover up to 80 percent of the power shortages in the region before it closed two 440-megawatt nuclear reactors upon European Union entry in January over safety concerns. The government said in a statement the new generator will be based in the Maritsa East power complex, where two thermal power plants are operating, producing 30 percent of Bulgaria’s electricity, and a third one is being built. Outgoing Economy and Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov said the state-owned company which operates the adjacent lignite coal mines, the country’s biggest, will open a tender for an investor for the project, estimated to cost around 900 million euros. «The tender will be opened by Mines Maritsa East when the company is ready. I suppose that should happen by the end of the year,» he told reporters. US energy firm AES, Italy’s Enel and Germany’s RWE and E.ON have already expressed interest in building a new plant in the complex, where the government said lignite coal reserves were at 1.85 billion tons.