SOFIA – Bulgaria’s state utility NETC invited six European utilities to file initial bids for a 49 percent stake in a planned -4 billion nuclear power plant. Bulgaria has contracted Russia’s Atomstroyexport, controlled by gas giant Gazprom, to build two 1,000-megawatt reactors at the Danube river town of Belene. The plant is expected to come online after 2014. The new plant aims to compensate for the closure of two 440-megawatt reactors last year and restore Bulgaria’s position as a leading power exporter in Southeastern Europe. Italy’s Enel, Germany’s E.ON and RWE, Czech CEZ, France’s EdF and Belgium’s Electrabel, owned by French utility Suez, should file their offers by October 1, NETC said. «The six firms will be allowed to carry out a due diligence and file initial bids that will be used as a basis for negotiations with NETC,» the Bulgarian utility, which will keep the majority stake in the plant, said in a statement. NETC said Spain’s Endesa, Swiss energy firms EGL and Atel and the Bulgarian unit of Belgian copper refiner Cumerio have expressed interest in acquiring stakes lower than 25 percent in the new plant. The four companies could be invited to place initial offers if needed during the talks with the six short-listed bidders and only upon their and NETC’s approval, the utility said. NETC has said it plans to pick a strategic partner to own and operate the Belene plant by the end of the year and wrap up the deal next February. It has opened a tender to find a lead manager to arrange the financing of the plant. It has also said it expected the new investor to help it secure the funds by either offering a corporate guarantee or by signing long-term power purchase agreements that will help it receive better debt conditions.