SOFIA (AFP) – Bulgaria and Russia are to sign a contract for the construction of a nuclear plant later this week during the visit here of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Bulgarian minister said yesterday. «We will sign on January 18 an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract to build two pressurized water reactors of 1,000 megawatts each,» Economy and Energy Minister Petar Dimitrov told a news conference. «The contract will be implemented by Atomstroiexport. A joint venture between Areva (of France) and Siemens (of Germany) will be the subcontractor,» Dimitrov said, putting the total value of the contract at -4 billion (5.9 billion dollars). A letter of intent to build the plant at Belene on the River Danube was signed in November 2006. The new facility is designed to compensate for lost capacity at Bulgaria’s only nuclear plant at Kozloduy, which was partially closed for safety reasons ahead of Bulgaria’s European Union accession in 2007. Construction on the new plant is planned to begin in the second half of 2008 and the first of the plant’s two 1,000-megawatt reactors will be operational in 2013. The second will follow a year later, Dimitrov said. Dimitrov rejected criticism from opposition parties that Bulgaria was becoming too dependent on Russia for its energy. « This is a European project,» he said. «The reactors are Russian but their operational systems will be supplied by Areva and Siemens, so (they will be) European,» Dimitrov argued. In December, the European Commission gave its official go-ahead to the project. Later this year, Bulgaria’s National Electricity Company is expected to select a strategic investor for a 49 percent stake in the plant, itself retaining the other 51 percent.