SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria has invited German utility RWE and Belgium’s Electrabel to submit binding bids by June 23 for a 49 percent stake in a planned new nuclear power plant, state power utility NEK said yesterday. NEK has short-listed RWE and Electrabel, owned by France’s Suez, as candidates to take the minority stake in the 4-billion-euro, 2,000-megawatt plant on the Danube River. «The candidates can submit final offers starting May 27,» an NEK spokeswoman said. Both suitors confirmed yesterday they were interested in the deal and would file their offers within the deadline. NEK will have the controlling 51 percent stake in the Belene plant, whose reactors are expected to come online in 2013 and 2014, respectively. The government, whose mandate expires next spring, plans to wrap up the deal before the end of the year and the start of the election campaign. Bulgaria hopes Belene will restore its position as a leading power exporter in the Balkans, which it lost after it was forced to shut down Soviet-era reactors as a condition of winning European Union membership. In Bulgaria, nuclear energy accounts for some 33 percent of power needs. Sofia has commissioned Russia’s state-owned Atomstroyexport, along with France’s Areva and Germany’s Siemens to build the plant.